Why the Seahawks, Chargers, Dolphins, Vikings, Ravens and Bucs Lost on the NFL’s Super Wild Card Weekend

The weekend's six losers are already preparing for next year

January 17, 2023 6:53 am
Tyler Huntley of the Ravens fumbles the ball against the Bengals.
If Tyler Huntley went low, the Ravens may have won.
Dylan Buell/Getty

For the most part, the NFL’s second-ever Super Wild Card Weekend was a smash hit over last season as the majority of the six games were closer than expected and there were multiple upsets, a testament to parity in the NFL.

Interestingly, the major exception was the weekend’s opening game between the Seattle Seahawks and the 49ers in San Francisco, which had a double-digit spread at kickoff but was projected to potentially be a barnburner due to weather conditions. Instead, the Niners responded to a one-point deficit at halftime with a 25-point second half to rout Seattle 41-23.

Instead of looking ahead at the four games to come as the playoffs march on, let’s probe into the biggest reason why each of the weekend’s six losers lost their matchup on Saturday, Sunday or Monday night.

The Seahawks lost because the 49ers are too good

The Seahawks, who duped the Broncos by trading Russell Wilson to Denver during the offseason for a haul of draft picks, were supposed to be terrible this season, and many projected them to finish in last place in the NFC West. They exceeded those expectations by leaps and bounds as re-tread quarterback Geno Smith had an outstanding season that should land him Comeback Player of the Year honors.

Unfortunately, despite all that positive momentum, Seahawks ran into what may be an unstoppable force in the 49ers and allowed 25 consecutive points to San Francisco in the second half in a game that seemed like it could go either way at halftime.

The fight Seattle put up this season with Smith at the helm was admirable, but the Seahawks simply aren’t in the class of the Niners, who could very likely go on to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl.

The Chargers lost because they are the Chargers

Leading 27-7 at halftime on the road in Jacksonville, the Chargers did what they’ve done for two decades and made a number of critical second-half mistakes as they let the Jaguars score 24 points while only putting up a field goal of their own.

Always talented but rarely able to live up to their ability, the Chargers let an inferior team beat them as Jacksonville quarterback Trevor Lawrence was somehow able to follow four interceptions with four touchdown passes to get the Jaguars the upset win. For some reason, despite suffering the third-largest collapse in NFL postseason history on Saturday night, Chargers players reiterated their support for head coach Brandon Staley.

“Everyone would be lucky to have a coach like Staley. He’s been an incredible leader and has the respect of everyone on our team,” said quarterback Justin Herbert. “He’s genuine, he’s himself and has been the same person for the past two years.”

Staley may be genuine, but good coaches don’t let their teams blow historic leads. He’s perfect for the Chargers.

The Dolphins lost because they didn’t have Tua

Underdogs by double-digits heading into their game in Buffalo on Sunday, the Dolphins put up a strong fight against a Bills team that may be headed to the Super Bowl if things break their way. Playing their best game in weeks, Miami just didn’t have the horses to knock off the three-time defending AFC East champion Bills.

Had usual starting quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, who is in the NFL concussion protocol, or even backup quarterback Teddy Bridgewater (dislocated pinky finger) been able to suit up, Miami may have had a shot. Without either of those players and with rookie third-string quarterback Skylar Thompson running things, it was tough sledding for the Dolphins against a Buffalo squad that might have been looking ahead. Thompson, who was at least partially complicit in Miami losing five in a row down the stretch, did his best but is not an NFL-caliber quarterback to this point. With championship aspirations, Buffalo was too much for him.

“We fell short, but it wasn’t because of lack of effort, or lack of determination, or lack of intent. It’s because we didn’t get it done,” said first-year coach Miami Mike McDaniel. “We are a young team. We had to learn from it. Unfortunately, we had to learn the hard way.”

With Tagovailoa, things may have been different.

The Vikings lost because of their shoddy defense

Winners of more close games than any team in the history of the NFL this season, the Vikings finally saw their luck run out on Sunday against a New York Giants team that certainly has its share of weak points. However, the Giants didn’t let those points sink them in Minneapolis on Sunday and were able to prevail despite being underdogs.

Rolling out a defense that finished second-to-last in the league in yards allowed this season, the Vikings let middling quarterback Daniel Jones throw for 301 yards and two touchdowns and run for 78 yards as New York notched a 31-24 win. In the win, the Giants were efficient on offense and moved the ball against a bend-but-don’t-break Minnesota defense that eventually shattered under the watch of defensive coordinator Ed Donatell.

“I think Ed tried to do the best he could this year across the board, installing the defense and the scheme that we had kind of manifested together and hoped it would come to life,” said Minnesota head coach Kevin O’Connell. “He worked his absolute tail off, and his commitment to trying to make some adjustments and improve was there, each and every week, all season long.”

If the Vikings, who went 13-4 this season, want to improve from this season, Donatell may have to go.

The Ravens lost because Tyler Huntley didn’t go low

Large underdogs to the Bengals entering Sunday night’s game, the Ravens, as they usually do, hung tough. Relying on a rag-tag offense unit led by second-string quarterback Tyler Huntley, Baltimore was able to make it all the way to the fourth quarter before they faced a third-and-goal at the Cincy one-yard-line with about 12 minutes left. Then, inexplicably, Huntley tried to go over the top of the line for the go-ahead score and was clearly stopped by a Cincinnati line that was ready for the play. Even worse, linebacker Germaine Pratt hit Huntley to cause a fumble that was picked up and returned for an epic touchdown by fellow linebacker Logan Wilson.

Whether Huntley had scored or not, there’s no guarantee that Baltimore would have won the game. But what is certain is that the fumble cost the Ravens a game that they were competitive in. Had Huntley tried to go down instead of up (or perhaps the goal-line play been called that way) things may have been different in what should have been a clear mismatch.

“We felt like we had a good call; it was a push-sneak play. It wasn’t executed just the correct way,” said Ravens head coach John Harbaugh. “Tyler went over the top. That’s a ‘burrow’ play; he has to go low on that. That’s the way the play is designed. We felt like that was the best call; we just didn’t execute it right.”

The Buccaneers lost because it was just time

Facing an opponent he had never lost to in his professional career, Tom Brady came up short as Dallas rolled Tampa Bay on Monday Night Football in what may have been the least competitive game of Super Wild Card Weekend.

The Cowboys were favored, but it was fairly easy to see a scenario where Brady and the Buccaneers would keep it close and eke out a win. That was definitely not the case as the Cowboys rolled from the opening kickoff and buried the Bucs early and without mercy.

Simply by having Brady on the field, it seemed like Tampa might have a chance. As Sunday night’s game showed, he is no longer enough to swing the pendulum by himself. The Cowboys, who are not a favorite to go to the Super Bowl, embarrassed Tampa Bay on both sides of the ball. The Bucs, like the rest of the teams in the NFC South, were not a good squad this season. On Monday night on national TV, that chicken came home to roost.

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