Lawrence: Dungeon Of Disappointment

For some NFL teams, the 2018 season has been a wild and fun ride. For others, such as San Francisco, it's been bitterly disappointing

Amy Lawrence
December 18, 2018 - 8:08 pm

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For the NFL teams still fighting, scratching, and clawing for playoff berths, byes, and better seeds, the holidays will be happy and hopeful. But for those teams who've already sealed their fate, the disappointment weighs heavy in these finals days of 2018. It's the great dichotomy in sports: the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.

The Saints, Chiefs, Rams and Chargers are preparing for the postseason with confidence; others such as the Patriots, Steelers, Texans, Cowboys, and Seahawks are pressing toward the finish line with all their goals still intact. A few more cling to possibilities, however remote, and pour themselves into their last chances. But there's no mistaking the frustration and dejection of those franchises who missed the mark. Even as they play out the string, they must set their sights on the future with all of its unknowns.

When held up against preseason expectations, a pair of teams on opposite coasts may serve as the greatest disappointments of the fall. The San Francisco 49ers gave quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo a then-record $27.5 million annual salary and $74 million in guaranteed money. As a result, the hype machine hit hyperdrive with playoff predictions for Kyle Shanahan's second year in the Bay area. But Garoppolo didn't make it through September before tearing his ACL and shredding the hopes of a fan base. While undrafted QB Nick Mullens has filled in admirably, including a Thursday Night Football debut for the ages, the loss of Garoppolo was a monumental setback.

On the East Coast, the Giants finally had a healthy Odell Beckham Jr. plus dynamic rookie rusher Saquon Barkley, a retooled offensive line, and new head coach Pat Shurmur. Double-digit wins and a return to the playoffs were both on the horizon, except New York dropped seven of its first eight games. Eli Manning spent more time running for his life than throwing the football downfield; the O-line required more tweaking; and a disgruntled OBJ aired his grievances publicly more than once. Even though Barkley is a bright spot with 13 touchdowns and more than 1,800 yards from scrimmage, the Giants spent most of the season in the basement of a very winnable NFC East. Sadly, it's shaping up to be another offseason of Eli Manning questions in the Big Apple.

The Panthers morphed into the biggest tease of 2018. They hit the midway point at 6-2, nipping at New Orleans' heels in the NFC South. But then they fell off a cliff and literally haven't won since. The limitations of Cam Newton's balky shoulder are obvious. At this point, he can barely propel the ball more than 15 yards, and his passes lack zip and power. He admits his lack of consistent practice is throwing off his rhythm, though his stats have been strong for most of the season. His 24 touchdown strikes tie him with Tom Brady and Deshaun Watson, and he's racked up almost 3,400 yards. But his completion rate is slipping and interceptions are mounting in the second half. Sadly, the Panthers are wasting a fantastic sophomore effort from running back Christian McCaffrey and another stellar performance in the prime of Luke Kuechly's linebacking career. The defense bears responsibility, too, with big plays surrendered over and over. Coach Ron Rivera may not survive this disaster.

The Jaguars advanced to the AFC Championship last winter, and they were a popular pick to build on that success with their fierce defense and top-shelf running attack. But their victory over the Patriots in Week 2 turned out to be the highlight of their season. Losers of nine in ten games, they resemble a train wreck. The offense is barely averaging more than 16 points per outing, topping only Buffalo and Arizona. While the defense has battled valiantly, the sniping and infighting have boiled over and wrecked team chemistry; instead of sticking together, they've come apart at the seams.

The Green Bay Packers also peaked early, giving us a show on the first Sunday night of the season with a 20-point rally against the Bears, sparked by a one-legged Aaron Rodgers. But he's looked off most of the time, and the disconnect between him and Mike McCarthy led to a stunning December change on the sidelines. It's been a calendar year full of upheaval, from the front office to the coaching staff to the receiving corps to the secondary. The 100th season of the Packers is a dud. On the bright side, the last time they suffered through back-to-back losing campaigns (in the early ’90s), they made a February move that altered the course of the franchise: trading for Brett Favre. Green Bay is still a desired football destination with an incredible tradition and commitment to winning. The offseason will be the chance for course correction.

Disappointment isn't reserved solely for teams; individual players certainly navigate their share. Each year features devastating injuries like Garoppolo, Alex Smith in Washington, offensive lineman Cam Robinson in Jacksonville, safety Earl Thomas in Seattle, wide receiver Will Fuller in Houston, and what feels like half the roster in Cincinnati. And that's only a partial list. Joe Flacco's hip injury jumpstarted the career of rookie Lamar Jackson and a resurgence for the Ravens. The organization will either trade or cut Flacco, triggering an unceremonious end to what was a productive partnership for the better part of a decade. But Baltimore can't afford to be sentimental while chasing its first playoff bid since 2014, and Father Time waits for no athlete.

Not seeing Le'Veon Bell on the field at all was a disappointing twist to the season, though the Steelers recovered nicely in the backfield. Finding out Kareem Hunt attacked a young woman and lied about it was not only a fiasco for the Chiefs but a disaster for the league.

The bitter pill of dejection comes in all shapes and sizes, and no team or player is immune. However, more than any other sport, the NFL offers the opportunity for quick bounce-backs. Worst to first is an achievable reality; and every winter, a handful of teams end playoff droughts. While future prospects may not make this holiday season any easier, the dungeon of disappointment can only hold teams temporarily. The vexation will fade and the chance for redemption will arise. Just look at the Cleveland Browns!

Merry Christmas!!

A well-traveled veteran of sports radio and television, Amy is the passionate host of CBS Sports Radio’s late-night program, After Hours with Amy Lawrence, from 2-6am ET on the nation’s largest 24/7 major-market radio network. Listeners can tune in from Canada and overseas, thanks to SiriusXM, cbssportsradio.com and the CBS Sports app. Amy has also handled basketball play-by-play and color duties for various radio and TV outlets over the past 15 years. Amy graduated from Messiah College with bachelor’s degrees in Communications & Accounting before earning her master’s in TV & Radio from Syracuse University. She is a native of Concord, NH.

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