Over the next few days, the Full10 crew are going to be sharing some thoughts on the season that was 2020. We start out with Sean Tyler, who looks back at a few aspects from a crazy campaign.
TOUCHDOWNS… WHO NEEDS ‘EM?
The NFL season was odd for many, often COVID-related reasons but for me, 2020 was the year when the Atlanta Falcons and Cleveland Browns tried not to score. In true Atlanta style, they botched it and accidentally logged what amounted to a “game-losing” TD but Cleveland played it to perfection.
You don’t often see a defence let the opposition score on purpose, let alone celebrate the fact, but that’s what happened during the Falcons’ Week 7 clash with the Detroit Lions. Atlanta trailed by two points with just over a minute to go but had a 1st-and-goal at the 10. The Lions were out of timeouts so the Falcons just needed to keep the ball, run down the clock and kick a simple chip-shot to win. Simple. In fact, the only ways they could possibly lose were by (a) missing the kick or (b) scoring, thereby giving possession back to Detroit.
You’re one step ahead of me, aren’t you?
Todd Gurley took a handoff, then realized far too late that the Lions defence had parted like the Red Sea, clearing a path straight to the end zone. Gurley tried to slam on the anchors but couldn’t stop himself from breaking the plane. A two-point conversion followed, giving Atlanta a 22-16 lead but giving Detroit the ball.
It goes without saying that the nightmare scenario played out over the next 64 seconds. Matt Stafford marched his team down the field with an eight-play, 75-yard drive that ended with an 11-yard TD connection with TJ Hockerson as the clock ran out, setting up Matt Prater to seal a 23-22 win with the XP. Having blown two double-digit leads and fired their Head Coach already by this point, this was just another laughable way the Falcons found to lose in 2020 as they slumped to 1-6.
Fast forward three weeks to mid-November. The Cleveland Browns held a 10-7 lead over the Houston Texans with, guess what, just over a minute to go. Running back Nick Chubb, in his first game back from a knee injury, took his final carry of the game on a 3rd-and-3, ran towards the sideline, turned upfield and somehow broke free for 59 yards. The only issue – especially for fans who had him on their fantasy teams or betting slips – was that the end zone was 60 yards away.
Yep, Chubb intentionally ran out of bounds at the 1-yard line, despite there being no Texans anywhere near him. Had he not already scored earlier in the game, he confessed he would have taken the score but there was no need. Like Detroit, Houston were out of timeouts at this point so the Browns took a knee twice and ran out the clock on a three-point win.
Apparently, Baker Mayfield had told the huddle to get the first down and then hit the deck, so Chubb pretty much did as he was told, although sliding to the ground but staying in bounds would’ve been even better for time management purposes. Had he scored, Cleveland would have held a 10-point lead so the chances of losing (via scenarios probably involving a successful Hail Mary and a recovered onside kick-off) were miniscule. But bizarrely, his last-second decision not to score removed all such doubt and guaranteed the W.
Funny ol’ game, isn’t it?
EVERY DAY IS FOOTBALL DAY
As NFL fans, we’re used to our regular fix of Thursday, Sunday and Monday games (OK, they spill into the following mornings here in the UK, but you know what I mean) and we see some play-off games on a Saturday. But yet again, 2020 proved to be a year like no other because we had at least one game on every day of the week for the first time in the modern era. We wouldn’t normally expect to settle down for a diet of Tuesday, Wednesday or Friday Night Football yet that’s what we got.
Tuesday games are as rare as hen’s teeth, with only one (Eagles vs Vikings in 2010) in the last 70 years yet 2020 served up two in a couple of months. The first, back in Week 5, saw the Titans beat the Bills 42-16, with Derrick Henry and Jonnu Smith getting a pair of TDs each. That was originally a regular Sunday game, but it got moved after the Tennessee camp was struck by a COVID-19 outbreak.
The Ravens also hosted the Cowboys on a Tuesday in Week 13, making Dallas the first franchise to have played on every day of the week. This game was originally scheduled for TNF but that went out of the window when a COVID outbreak delayed to Baltimore’s game against the Steelers the week before. In front of a national audience, the Ravens rushed for almost 300 yards that Tuesday night as they saw off the Cowboys 34-17.
Wednesday games are just as rare: there’s only been one since 1950 and that was the season opener in 2012, when the Giants and Cowboys got shunted a day to avoid clashing with a televised President Obama speech. This year, that Ravens and Steelers game I just mentioned – initially slated for Thanksgiving – moved to Sunday, then Tuesday and finally Wednesday as positive COVID test results continued to hit Baltimore. Especially with Lamar Jackson missing, the game was closer than expected but the 19-14 victory was enough to propel Pittsburgh to an 11-0 record.
Friday games are slightly more common. There have been three since 2000 and the Vikings and Saints’ match-up being scheduled for a Friday this year had nothing to do with the pandemic. They were down as the NFL’s Christmas Day game and in 2020, 25 December just happened to fall on a Friday. And what did Santa bring us? An NFL record-equalling six touchdowns from Alvin Kamara as the Saints romped home 52-33.
Football seven days a week: one of the unexpected bonuses of 2020.
THE BEST QUARTERBACK MOMENTS OF 2020
In 2020, quarterbacks enjoyed the highs of long-awaited returns and last-minute wins, as well as the lows associated with injury, illness, defeat and human error. Let’s relive the most memorable of them…
Needle match: Dak Prescott, Joe Burrow and Drew Brees were among those who suffered serious injuries this year but possibly the weirdest was experienced by the LA Chargers’ Tyrod Taylor. Before their game with the Chiefs, his team doctor gave him a pain-killing injection for cracked ribs and accidentally punctured his lung. Taylor was shipped off to hospital, unexpectedly ushering in the start of Justin Herbert’s NFL career.
Lamar goes for two: The Ravens’ dual-treat QB may wear the No.8 shirt but in a storming Monday Night game against AFC North rivals Cleveland, Lamar Jackson may have nipped into the locker room for a No.2. That was the rumour doing the rounds anyway, although the official story was that he was suffering with cramp, possibly associated with COVID-19. Either way, his fourth quarter absence helped Cleveland take the lead but a much-relieved Jackson returned to lead Baltimore to a 47-42 win in one of the games of the season.
Bronco thrown to the lions (against the Saints): Denver’s Kendall Hinton, a practice squad wide receiver and former college signal-caller, earned our respect when he stepped in as an emergency QB against New Orleans after the entire quarterback room was ruled out due to COVID-19. Alas, his 1-of-9, 19-yard, 2 INT performance (with a QB rating of 0.0) isn’t going to be made into an ‘underdog overcomes adversity’ movie any time soon but fair play to him for just going out there, even if he did complete more passes to Saints players than to his own teammates.
Tom’s senior moment: We can’t be too rude about Tom Brady now that he’s just won his seventh Super Bowl but back in Week 5, he did have a bit of a brain freeze. Down 20-19 against Chicago with just a minute left, TB12 faced a 4th-and-6 in his own half. His attempted pass to Cameron Brate was broken up, giving the Bears the win. Poor ol’ Tom was seen signalling to the touchline, indicating that he thought he had another down at his disposal. No such luck; he just lost count.
Comeback player of the year: If Washington QB Alex Smith had never wanted to play again following his catastrophic leg injury in 2018, nobody would have blamed him. In fact, many of us were concerned about his long-term health after 17 surgeries and an infection that almost cost him his life, let alone his leg. But somehow, over two years, he cleared the physical and mental hurdles ahead of him before making an emotional return in October against the LA Rams.
Hail Murray: The most spectacular play of the year brought the Cardinals an amazing last-gasp victory over Buffalo in November. Trailing by four and with just 11 seconds left, Kyler Murray scurried and scampered to keep the play alive, then launched an all-or-nothing Hail Mary from near the halfway line into the end zone. Despite triple coverage, Arizona wideout DeAndre Hopkins came down with the ball, sealing a 32-30 comeback win. They may make a movie about this one.
Revenge of the turf monster: The Week 7 clash betwen the Giants and Eagles brought what was possibly the most comical moment of the season. New York QB Daniel Jones took a snap on his own 11 yard-line, stepped up through the pocket and suddenly found the field open up ahead of him. So he ran… and ran… and ran for 80 yards, logging the fourth-longest run in franchise history. But like a toddler, poor ol’ Danny Dimes ran so fast that his feet couldn’t keep up with his head, and over he tumbled, a few yards shy of the end zone, as if tackled by an invisible foe or shot by a sniper. The Giants did score later in the drive but still lost 22-21, summing up the NFC (L)East to perfection.