The first points scored on the first Sunday of the 2013 regular season was a glimpse into how the rest of the day would follow.
The Tennessee Titans won the coin toss in Pittsburgh and elected to receive, but found themselves with a two-point deficit just three seconds into the game. Titans returner Darius Reynaud caught the kickoff, took a glance downfield and decided to take a knee in the end zone.
One problem: He failed to realize his toes had already crossed the goal line and therefore he was called for a safety.
While this dumb mistake didn’t have a critical impact on the outcome of the game — the Titans won 16-9 — it did set the tone for a Sunday afternoon that was littered with bonehead penalties and avoidable mistakes.
The Detroit Lions trailed the Minnesota Vikings 7-6 early in the second quarter when DeAndre Levy intercepted an errant Christian Ponder pass and returned it for a 33-yard touchdown. Not so fast. The oft-penalized Ndamukong Suh threw a cheap-shot low block on an offensive lineman trailing the play by at least eight yards at the time of the infraction. Not only should Ndamukong Suh know he can’t throw his body into the knees of a player from the side, but he didn’t even need to throw a block at all. This was a 300-pound center trying to chase down a 235-pound linebacker that had an eight-yard head start. Totally unnecessary.
After negating the six points, the Lions went out and threw an interception on the very next play and the Vikings scored on the ensuing possession. The Lions went from taking a 13-7 lead to trailing by eight points. In the end, just like the Titans, the boneheaded play wasn’t a critical mistake as the Lions went on to win 34-24.
The Bengals, Bucs and Packers weren’t as lucky.
In Chicago, the Bears had a three-point lead when they took possession of the ball with 6:38 remaining on the clock. Fast-forward 5:23 later and the Bengals stuff Michael Bush off the right end to force a fourth-and-5 with 1:15 left. But instead of having one final series to either force overtime with a field goal or win the game outright with a touchdown, the Bengals were denied that chance once Rey Maualuga threw a Bears offensive lineman to the ground after the whistle and 10 yards behind the play. Rather than punting the ball away on fourth down, the unnecessary roughness penalty gave the Bears a new set of downs and allowed Jay Cutler to kneel out the remainder of the clock.
There is no way of knowing what the Bengals would have done in that final minute, but it’s not unfathomable that they could have gone the length of the field for a score. AJ Green had already tallied 162 receiving yards in the game. But Maualuga selfishly decided it was more important for him to prove how tough he was by hip tossing an offensive lineman that had already driven him completely out of the play.
For the Buccaneers, it wasn’t so much a selfish play as it was a stupid one, but either way, it was just as fatal.
Josh Freeman had just orchestrated a nine-play drive that resulted in a go-ahead field goal leaving just :34 to play. Now trailing by two points, the Jets take possession and after a long completion down the middle of the field, Geno Smith spikes the ball on his own 45-yard line with just :15 left. On the very next play, Smith rolls out to his right and scrambles down the sideline for a gain of 10 yards and as he was stepping out of bounds, Lavonte David plows into him, drawing a 15-yard personal foul penalty.
So, now with just :02 left, rather than having to heave a prayer into the end zone from the 45-yard line, the Jets earn 15 free yards and advance into field goal range. Kicker Nick Folk nails the 48-yarder and Rex Ryan dubs him the “Folk Hero” in the postgame press conference. He should have probably just thanked David for giving Folk the chance to kick the field goal in the first place!
The 49ers were on the receiving end of a similar penalty in the first half of their postseason rematch with the Green Bay Packers. It was third-and-6 from the Green Bay 10-yard line and Colin Kaepernick scrambled left and was short of the first-down marker by two yards. But just like LaVonte David, Clay Matthews clearly hits Kaepernick late. Typically, that would have resulted in a new set of downs for the 49ers, but Joe Staley retaliated with his own personal foul … offsetting the two penalties. Two bonehead penalties in a matter of seconds.
As our own Mike Pereira has explained, the offsetting penalties were dead ball fouls and therefore the down should have counted and it should have been fourth down. But as it was interpreted by the game officials, the fouls offset and they replayed third down. The 49ers scored on the replayed down and therefore Matthews’ boneheaded play cost the Packers four points (assuming the 49ers would have kicked the field goal on fourth down).
Staley’s penalty could have actually been even more critical had the officials interpreted the offsetting penalties correctly. As it was, the 49ers only got to replay the third down rather than having an entirely new set of downs, but had the officials got it right, they wouldn’t have even gotten that chance. So just as Matthews cost his team four points, Staley could have easily down the same.
I understand he is sticking up for his quarterback, but do it between the whistles.