It has now been just over a week since the New Orleans Saints lost in heartbreaking fashion to the Minnesota Vikings. 10 seconds remained. The Vikings, trailing by a point and standing 61 yards away from the endzone, seemed short on options. Sean Payton had already mocked his opponent with their own Skol chant. Reporters were writing up familiar Vikings obituaries. Then, rookie safety Marcus Williams whiffed on what will surely go down as one of the most iconic plays in NFL playoff history. Before that moment, the young safety had recorded five tackles and a vital interception during New Orleans’ ferocious comeback attempt. That didn’t matter anymore. Life isn’t often fair in the heat of the spotlight. Williams cemented his spot in scapegoat lore by finding air instead of Diggs’ legs. Luckily, he has plenty of company in the last several years. Let’s shine that spotlight elsewhere for a bit as Williams takes in the rest of the postseason that could’ve been.
5. Kyle Williams – 2011 NFC Championship Game
Wide Receiver Kyle Williams joined the 49ers as a 6th round pick in the 2010 NFL Draft. He recorded two receptions for 20 yards during the 2011-2012 postseason. It’s an insignificant stat line that can be expected for a late rounder in his second season. Unfortunately, Williams’ disastrous impact came on special teams. An injury to Ted Ginn pressed Williams into punt return service. He committed his first gaffe early in the 4th quarter. Williams allowed a bouncing punt to glance off his knee. The Giants regained possession on the botched play thanks to a challenge. They scored seven plays later to take a 17-14 lead. That mistake effectively caused the game to go into overtime. After the teams traded several possessions, New York once again kicked it to Kyle Williams. He fielded the punt cleanly this time, but a defender stripped the ball five yards into his return. The Giants recovered on San Francisco’s 24-yard line, eventually kicked a 31-yarder to win, and doomed Williams to scapegoat status for life. The 49ers released Williams midway through the 2013 season. Injuries marred the rest of his short career, and he’s currently out of the NFL.
4. Rahim Moore – 2012 AFC Divisional Round
The Marcus Williams play shares most in common with Rahim Moore’s mishap against Joe Flacco’s Baltimore Ravens. If not for Moore’s botched coverage, it’s likely the Ravens would have already moved on from their quarterback. There would be no “Elite Joe Flacco” arguments, even in jest. The Ravens trailed the Broncos 42-35 on third down with 43 seconds remaining, no timeouts, and the ball at their own 30. Joe Flacco launched a well-thrown prayer – but a prayer nonetheless – down the right sideline. The ball hung in the air for an eternity. Rahim Moore ranged over and appeared to have perfect position for either an interception or a deflection. Instead, he misjudged the ball, which fell into the lap of Jacoby Jones. Jones galloped the remaining 20 yards into the endzone, and the Ravens won on a field goal in overtime. Moore played out the rest of his rookie contract in Denver, failed to catch on with three other teams, and hasn’t recorded a regular season stat since 2015.
3. Brandon Bostick – 2014 NFC Championship Game
The Packers snatched defeat from the jaws of victory in a handful of painful ways. Green Bay led 16-0 at half and 19-7 with just under three minutes remaining. Mike McCarthy should have shown more aggression in early 4th and Goal situations. The defense could have been more aware and prevented Seattle from scoring their first touchdown via a fake field goal. Morgan Burnett slid to the ground after recording the Packers’ fourth interception with five minutes remaining. He had endless open field to work with to, at the very least, start Aaron Rodgers off in field goal position. Instead, Green Bay went three and out and punted. The Seahawks made them pay with a touchdown. 2:09 remained. Seattle had only one timeout and decided to attempt an onside kick. Brandon Bostick, a third string tight end, ignored his role to block for Jordy Nelson and attempted to catch the ball instead. The ball caromed of Bostick’s helmet. Seattle’s Chris Matthews recovered. Seattle wasted no time in scoring. Even then, Bostick could have been cleared. Russell Wilson had to scramble all the way back to the 20 during Seattle’s two point attempt. If Ha Ha Clinton-Dix made a play on Wilson’s desperation heave to Luke Willson, Mason Crosby’s kick at the end of regulation would’ve been for a win instead of overtime. Instead, Seattle scored a walk-off OT touchdown. The Packers cut Bostick less than a month later. He last suited up for the 2016 New York Jets.
2. Russell Wilson/Pete Carroll – Super Bowl XLIX
It didn’t take long for the Seahawks to suffer their own tragedy. Two weeks after their improbable victory over Green Bay, Seattle stood one yard away from taking the lead in Super Bowl XLIX with 26 seconds remaining. The Seahawks elected to pass despite Marshawn Lynch’s imposing presence in the backfield. Jermaine Kearse attempted a pick play while Ricardo Lockette slanted underneath into the endzone. Malcolm Butler read this and jammed into Lockette, intercepting the pass. New England was subsequently able to run out the clock. Three years later, it’s easy to divide Pete Carroll’s time at the helm as the pre-play years and the post-play years. Seattle rose to the top of the sports world with the Legion of Boom and dependable play from Russell Wilson. They looked near practically unbeatable in 2013 and 2014. Since that famed goal line interception, Seattle has failed to find the same magic. Rumors arose that Pete Carroll opted for a pass because he preferred Russell Wilson as the Super Bowl hero. The Legion of Boom has aged and declined. The team has routinely been forced to shoot down reports of offensive vs. defensive spats. Now, Russell Wilson has become the present and future of a Seahawks team that recently missed the playoffs for the first time since 2011. Whatever that future holds, Wilson’s costly interception will forever haunt the fanbase.
1. Kyle Shanahan – Super Bowl LI
Atlanta was the top scoring offense in 2016 and the only team to average over 30 points a game. Matt Ryan set career highs in completion percentage, passing yards, touchdowns. He obliterated his previous yards per attempt high (9.3 versus 7.9) and threw a career low seven interceptions. Kyle Shanahan was a big reason for that. Matt Ryan regressed to 20 touchdowns this year and the offense dropped from 33.8 PPG (1st) to 22.1 PPG (15th). Kyle Shanahan’s departure was a big reason for that. Nonetheless, fans rejoiced when the young offensive coordinator took a head coaching job in San Francisco. Giving up a 28-3 lead on the game’s biggest stage requires a scapegoat, and Atlanta almost unanimously nominated Kyle Shanahan. The Falcons shifted away from the run in the second half despite a huge lead and the fact that it had worked wonders earlier in the game. A different strategy may have put them in a better position, but Atlanta still held a 28-20 lead with 4:40 remaining. Not only that, but the team was sitting pretty on New England’s 22-yard line at the time. The Falcons initially ran the ball for a one-yard loss. Instead of calling two more running plays to assure a running clock while in field goal range, Atlanta took a 12-yard sack, committed a holding penalty on a third down pass, and suffered another incompletion on 3rd and 33. The Falcons punted. New England thanked them by doing New England things. The Patriots scored, completed a two-point conversion, and then treated Atlanta’s defense like rancid swiss cheese during the first overtime in Super Bowl history. Analysts and fans alike derided Shanahan’s playcalling. Former Falcons receiver, Roddy White, even went so far as to say he would’ve fought Shanahan on the sidelines. Now, that is how you scapegoat.