Instant Debate

The blame game: Can one player truly decide an outcome?

Niners returner Kyle Williams reportedly is receiving death threats after he committed two miscues in San Francisco's loss in the NFC Championship Game. Ravens kicker Billy Cundiff's missed field goal in the AFC title game continues to be a hot topic, as reports surface that Cundiff wasn't ready to attempt the fateful kick. Where is the line in football for how much blame a player should take for a team's loss?

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  • Steve Wyche
  • Everyone shares in a loss, but Williams and Cundiff clearly stand out

The Patriots and the Giants are in the Super Bowl because they made the plays they had to make when they had to make them. Billy Cundiff whiffed on his field goal and Kyle Williams folded at the moments of truth. Both share in the blame, but neither is solely to blame. The 49ers missed on several opportunities and, last I checked, they also got scored on. Although Williams' first miscue in the fourth quarter gave New York a short field, that defense that was supposed to be a stone wall couldn't keep the Giants out of the end zone. The offense also didn't score enough points. That said, Williams' first mistake -- allowing the ball to just hit him? -- was pretty mindboggling. I'm sorry, but that is a blunder that can't easily be forgiven. From youth football, through high school, through college, every player is told when a punt can't be fielded cleanly, get away from it like it's anthrax. He froze. He knows it. I'm not saying anything he or anyone who ever played doesn't know.

As for Cundiff, he simply didn't come up clutch. Neither did Lee Evans when he didn't value the pass Joe Flacco laid in his lap, or other players on both sides of the ball. Keep in mind, Cundiff's kick would have sent it to overtime, as well. It was the tying kick, not a winning kick. The Ravens, to me, blew it when they recovered a fumbled kickoff and only managed a field goal. A touchdown there would've changed the tenor of the game.

Everyone shares in the loss, but Williams and Cundiff -- more than other players -- came up small when it mattered.

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  • Pat Kirwan
  • Death threats?! It's time to reevaluate our values, people

When fans take watching their team so seriously that they start tossing out threats of bodily harm (or even worse, death threats), it is time to reevaluate all of our values. We have all heard of fans beating up other fans in the parking lot because they have the opposing team's jersey on. The San Francisco 49ers had undercover police in the stands last week dressed up as New York Giants fans, trying to draw out the troublemakers. All of this serves as a depressing statement about how out of touch a small few are when it comes to fanfare.

When it comes to assigning blame, of course a missed 32-yard field goal affected the outcome of the game. But maybe the Ravens should have taken a timeout before that kick to get everyone on the same page. So that immediately implicates more people than Billy Cundiff. Maybe the run blockers should take some responsibility for the loss, seeing as the Ravens averaged less than four yards a carry and didn't have a single rushing touchdown. Maybe the Ravens should have gone for a touchdown early in the second quarter in a 4th-and-1 situation on the Patriots' 3, rather than kick the field goal. (A touchdown there would have added four more points to their total. Baltimore lost by three.)

The point is, there were many issues during the game that could be scrutinized; the missed field goal was just one of them.

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  • Jason Smith
  • NFL games are hardly ever decided on just one play

In the NFL, it hardly ever comes down to just one play, or one player. But there are situations where that's true. For instance, the Texans played a terrific game against the Ravens two weeks ago, but T.J. Yates just killed them with three interceptions. Arian Foster ran wild, and the game was close enough where you could say: If Matt Schaub had been at quarterback, the Texans would've played in the AFC title game. But Billy Cundiff and Kyle Williams? I can't lay the blame at their feet entirely. First of all, if Cundiff's kick goes, we're going to overtime and Baltimore still could have lost. And we're not talking about him at all if Lee Evans had just held onto Joe Flacco's pass for an extra half-second. Or if Ray Lewis had gotten to Tom Brady on 4th-and-goal a half-second sooner, etc. But if you're really focused on Cundiff? Here's my thing: He missed nine kicks during the regular season, which in the greatest era for kickers we've ever seen, is unacceptable. You didn't realize you had to make a move before this?

As far as Kyle Williams goes, he's someone who didn't normally return kicks but had to because Ted Ginn Jr. was out. So I give him the nod for trying to make plays. (Just stay away from the football on the first fumble!) But honestly, I think you could still be playing the game right now and the 49ers still wouldn't have scored again against the Giants' D. Once it got to the midway point of the fourth quarter, you knew San Francisco was done driving and would need a broken play or a bizarre turnover to win. Their offense was done. I think Williams' fumble just hastened the inevitable outcome.

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  • Charles DavisNFL Network
  • Anyone who threatens bodily harm needs a psychiatric evaluation

The line is so simple, how come ALL of us don't understand it?! Our NFL games evoke numerous emotions. The passion we all feel for the league fuels its popularity, and that's nothing but positive. BUT, the line? Where to draw the line? Pretty simple if you ask me. My team loses? I'm disappointed, frustrated, angry, sad. Issuing a death threat to a player who fumbles? Wanting to inflict bodily harm on a kicker who misses a kick with the game on the line? SICK ... and you need help.

The following cliché is true: No single play wins or loses a game. Some are more magnified than others, but no single play can be fully responsible for a game's outcome. Let's all try to remember that. (Admittedly, I'll start with MYSELF.)

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  • Elliot Harrison
  • In football-crazy times, some folks predictably take it too far

Obviously, these are just games. But with all of the seriousness afforded to instant replay, player safety, contracts and pretty much everything else surrounding pro football, it's not a surprise that some people take the outcome too far. It's a team game, and while Cundiff and Williams do share some blame, the losses aren't their fault. Cundiff's kick would have only tied the game. Williams' errors were more egregious, but the San Francisco offense surely deserves some of the blame when you consider it went 1-for-13 on third down. In fact, you could pull five plays from each game that cost the Ravens and 49ers a chance at victory.

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  • Adam Rank
  • Harbaughs, not the players, should take more of the blame

Maybe it's because the Harbaugh brothers are so beloved, but ultimately, this falls at their feet. Jim Harbaugh has been the darling of the NFL this season, but he was completely taken to school by Tom Coughlin who stressed to his team how important turnovers were and how to avoid making a big mistake (having Ed Hochuli's crew blow an early whistle also helps). And while I admire Harbaugh for running Williams out there after his gig muff, he should have instructed his young play-maker to fair catch the ball and go from there.

But the biggest mistake came from John Harbaugh. Rushing his kicker on the field, even for a chip shot actually made Cam Cameron's bizarre play calling seem great by comparison. The whole thing was setting up for Cundiff to miss the kick, and could have been avoided with a timeout.

This misguided anger should be pointed at the Harbaughs, but they are given a pass because they are so popular with the media.

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