NFL Scapegoats Who Took The Blame For Others’ Ineptitude

Darren - November 17, 2023

NFL Scapegoats Who Took The Blame For Others’ Ineptitude

Darren - November 17, 2023

It’s a harsh fact to accept. But we live in a world where no one wants to take responsibility for their mistakes or shortcomings. The NFL is no different because athletes, coaches, and executives all play the blame game. They love creating scapegoats and forcing them to deal with the aftermath of their ineptitude.

So today, we’ll look at some of the most infamous scapegoats in NFL history. Some players unfairly bore the brunt of fans’ wrath. We have coaches who took the hit despite crazy problems behind the scenes. Then some people were at fault but were only a cog in a broken machine.

Sam Darnold

Darnold entered the league at an incredibly young age when the Jets made him the third overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft. They immediately installed the rookie as their starter but it was a disaster. He infamously ‘saw ghosts’ in a game against the Patriots and left for the Panthers with a cloud over his head.

Sky Sports

Nonetheless, he remains one of the most notorious NFL scapegoats ever. Most people agree that the Jets threw him into the deep end too soon. They blame former head coach Adam Gase, a self-professed ‘quarterback whisperer’ thanks to his time spent as Peyton MAnning’s offensive coordinator with the Denver Broncos. Gase broke Darnold’s confidence and completely misused the young man (via New York Post).


Brian Flores

Flores became one of the most infamous scapegoats in recent years when the Miami Dolphins fired him. The coach reportedly refused to deliberately throw games. He confirmed that franchise owner Stephen Ross offered him a $100,000 bonus for each defeat in 2019.

Sky Sports

This was because they wanted to secure the first-overall pick in 2020. Flores says that ultimately his refusal to tank cost him his job. However, the Dolphins alleged that his poor treatment of Tua Tagovailoa was the primary factor. In the end, the NFL punished Miami for its unethical practices (via Sporting News).


Derek Carr

Sometimes fans don’t realize how good they have it. The Raiders decided to move on from former starting quarterback Carr in 2023 after nine seasons. On the face of it, it doesn’t seem unreasonable because he only had two winning seasons with a 63-79 overall record. However, everybody knows that the Raiders are a dysfunctional mess of a franchise.

Sports Illustrated

First, their owner Mark Davis’s hiring record for coaches is worse than his haircut. Meanwhile, Josh McDaniels quickly decided that Carr wasn’t his man. But he brought in Jimmy Garoppolo as his replacement. It was a sideways move that became worse because “Jimmy G.” played horribly and suffered never-ending injuries (via CBS Sports).

NBC Sports

Mac Jones

The media had a field day when the Patriots drafted Jones in 2021. Everybody instantly compared him to Tom Brady and the hype grew after a decent first season. However, Jones suffered a serious decline over the next couple of seasons before Bill Belichick finally benched him.

Sky Sports

There’s no doubt that Jones wasn’t playing well but it wasn’t entirely his fault. Belichick received significant criticism for the Patriots’ horrific record and was fighting for his job. Jones became one of the team’s scapegoats and many fans called for Bailey Zappe to start instead (via Bleacher Report).


Jon Gruden

Nobody will deny that Gruden deserved to lose his job after he resigned in 2021. However, it’s also true that he was the fall guy for one of the NFL’s most sordid scandals. Gruden sent dozens of emails to Washington Team President Bruce Allen. They exchanged racist, sexist, and sordid opinions about players, coaches, and executives.


But Gruden took the hit so that the media would focus on him instead of the NFL’s culture. The league investigated 650,000 emails so it’s safe to assume there was more going on beyond the scenes. This allowed them to suppress the rest of the emails and sweep the scandal under the rug. Gruden became one of the biggest scapegoats ever (via The Daily Beast).

Fox News

Ryan Tannehill

It’s fair to say that the Titans underwhelmed their fanbase in 2022. Veteran quarterback Tannehill bore the brunt of the criticism as fans made him one of the biggest scapegoats. His declining production annoyed them and they called for former Liberty star Malik Willis to replace him.

San Diego Union-Tribune

However, Willis wasn’t up to scratch and he showed that the problems went beyond the quarterback position. Remember, the Tannehill was playing under a poor offensive coordinator in Todd Downing. Furthermore, their offensive line left a lot to be desired. Tannehill was an easy target but there are many issues (via Sports Illustrated).

Bleacher Report

Billy Cundiff

Kickers have one of the best and worst jobs in American football. Firstly, they take less damage than other players and have the chance to be heroes. But when everything goes wrong, everybody remembers this. Cundiff discovered this in 2012 when he missed a game-deciding kick in the AFC Championship Game.

NBC Sports

However, he became one of the NFL’s biggest scapegoats. That’s because a glitchy scoreboard forced him to rush his kick. But the Vikings had a timeout and they could have used it. It was a messy situation and some people speculated that there were nefarious forces at work (via Star Tribune).

The New York Times

John Uribe

This doctor’s name won’t mean much to most NFL fans. However, he earned notoriety in 2022 after Tua Tagovailoa suffered concussions in back-to-back games. Shockingly, Uribe and the Miami team cleared him to play four days after the first incident. A harrowing scene saw him hit his head on the ground.


The Players Association justifiably blacklisted Uribe, who also worked with the Florida Panthers. However many people believed that he joined the ranks of NFL scapegoats. Several analysts and medical experts believed that the franchise knew what was going on and put Tagovailoa’s health at risk (via The Guardian).

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Matt Canada

Fans love finding scapegoats when things go wrong. Ask Canada because he knows this more than most people. The Steelers OC received incredible levels of vitriol because of the franchise’s ailing offense. It’s very common to see signs with ‘Fire Matt Canda’ at NFL games because they hate him.

Bleacher Report

However, this isn’t entirely fair because he doesn’t have the best tools to work with. The ghost of Ben Roethlisberger and a green Kenny Pickett led his quarterback rooms. It’s not Canada’s fault that Pickett is missing open throws. Maybe if they had a better passer things would be better (via Steelers Depot).

Green Bay Press-Gazette

Aaron Rodgers

Rodgers’ inclusion on this list may confuse some people but he’s been one of the biggest scapegoats we’ve seen. Many fans think that he chokes in clutch situations and blame the Packers’ playoff malaise on him. However, this overlooks that he has statistically outperformed Tom Brady in the postseason.

New York Post

In the end, Brady has the rings but Rodgers has the numbers. Furthermore, Mike McCarthy’s conservative playcalling shackled Rodgers for the bulk of his career. They didn’t allow him to express himself and take the game by the horns. There were also special team collapses over the years and poor defenses (via The New York Post).

Spectrum News

Mike LaFleur

LaFleur received excessive heat in 2022 because the Jets’ offense failed to fire. The former Niners coach moved up to become the Gang Green’s offensive coordinator. However, things didn’t go well for him and many fans wanted him out. But there was one massive problem of the equation and his name was Zach Wilson (via Bet Us).

New York Daily News

Wilson is one of the worst young starting quarterbacks the NFL has ever seen. The former BYU star arrived with questions hanging over him. He answered these by proving that he was not at the right level. Meanwhile, he suffered injuries to make life even more difficult for LaFleur, who jumped ship to the Los Angeles Rams.


Earnest Byner

Byner is one of the unluckiest players ever because of one awful moment in the 1987 AFC Championship Game. ‘The Fumble’ is a play that went down in history for all of the wrong reasons. The Browns trailed the Broncos by seven points with six minutes left in the game. Byner had a chance to be a hero in the final minute.


He rampaged upfield with the ball in his arms and fans would have staked their inheritances on him scoring. But he fumbled and the Broncos stripped him of possession in a shocking incident. However, it’s easy to forget he was Cleveland’s best player in that game with two touchdowns and seven receptions for 120 yards (via Fansided).


Tom Brady

‘DeflateGate’ remains one of the most notorious scandals of the past decade. It gave credence to the stereotype of the cheating Patriots and Brady received a suspension for his role. However, it was crazy to single out the legendary quarterback because he wasn’t the only guilty party (via ESPN).

Sports Illustrated

The NFL loves scapegoats and they turned Brady into one. Bill Belichick also deserves criticism because he turned his back on his star player. In the end, Brady returned and made a mockery of everyone by winning the MVP award. Nonetheless, cheating was rife across the league and Brady was only a cog in the machine.


Russell Wilson

Wilson had a nightmare season in 2022 after he joined the Broncos following a trade from the Seattle Seahawks. The long-serving Seahawks quarterback joined Denver in a blockbuster trade that excited Mile High City. Their fanbase believed that his addition would propel them into the Super Bowl conversation (via The Ringer).


However, Wilson had the worst year of his career and struggled to settle in as Denver’s starter. He was awful but he also became one of the league’s biggest scapegoats. That’s because Broncos GM George Paton decided that rookie head coach Nathaniel Hackett was the man to lead the franchise. Hackett failed miserably and the franchise fell into dysfunction.

New York Times

Eli Manning

Some players blatantly become scapegoats because they have inept coaches. Manning became a high-profile casualty when Ben McAdoo decided to stamp his authority. The head coach took the legendary Giants quarterback out of the limelight and installed Geno Smith as the starter.


McAdoo attempted to cast the blame for the Giants’ malaise on the two-time Super Bowl winner. In the end, it didn’t work out as they went 2-10 before he lost his job in 2017. If he spent as much time coaching as he did applying hair gel, the team might have done better (via SBNation).


Pete Carroll

Carroll is one of the NFL’s longest-serving head coaches and enjoyed Super Bowl-winning success. However, the Seahawks came within an inch of winning a second Vince Lombardi Trophy. The coaches ordered Russell Wilson to pass the ball to Ricardo Lockette but Malcolm Butler picked it off.

Sports Illustrated

Nobody could believe that Wilson didn’t offload to ‘Beast Mode’ Marshawn Lynch. Nonetheless, Carroll defended the play and the statistics supported him. Wilson also blamed himself for not putting enough juice on the pass. Furthermore, Seattle OC Darelle Bevell reportedly made the decisive call, not Carroll (via CBC).

247 Sports

John Kasey

The Panthers made their first-ever Super Bowl appearance in 2004 when they played the Patriots. They had an incredible opportunity to lift the coveted trophy but fell tragically short. Kasey was one of the team’s scapegoats because of one infamous moment. He smashed the ball out of bounds from a kickoff in the final minute.

Sports Illustrated

This gave New England a great field position and they went on to score the winning field goal. The unfortunate part was that Kasey played an integral role in the Panthers’ run to the final. He even kicked five field goals in their playoff win over the Cowboys. But nobody remembers that because of his misfire (via Yardbreaker).

Josh McDaniels

Let’s start this off by saying that McDaniels is a garbage head coach and the Raiders should never have hired him. But that doesn’t change the fact that he joined the long list of franchise scapegoats. He was out of his depth and the team played terribly before Mark Davis finally pulled the trigger and ended the disastrous McDaniels Era in Las Vegas halfway through the 2023 season.


But everyone knows Davis and his ineptitude is the franchise’s biggest problem. He hires and fires coaches like new editions of the iPhone and has created a horrible culture within the franchise. The chaos continues with every new hire but Davis is the only constant. Again, his record is worse than his horrendous haircut (via Defiant).

Sporting News

Jared Goff

Goff has been one of the NFL’s biggest scapegoats several times in his career. The Rams blamed him for losing Super Bowl LII in 2019. It was the roughest night of his career as he finished 19 of 38 for 229 yards with no touchdowns. Yes, he was ineffective but they hung him out to dry after the game.

Fox News

The quarterback deserves respect for the amazing way he rebounded with the Detroit Lions. Some Ford Field regulars doubted him after a tough start to life under Dan Campbell. But Lions OC Ben Johnson got the best out of the former Golden Bears star and turned him into a top-level starter on a playoff team (via USA Today Sports).


Lamar Jackson

Jackson is one of the NFL’s most interesting players because of his dual-threat abilities. However, some analysts continue to hate the Ravens star. They consider him a glorified running back and ignore his MVP record. Meanwhile, he became one of the league’s biggest scapegoats during his contract negotiations in 2023.

Bleacher Report

The Browns destroyed the market when they gave Deshaun Watson one of the most one-sided contracts ever. Jackson saw this and Patrick Mahomes’ deals before deciding he wanted a piece. Franchises across the league attempted to hold out in an act of petty vengeance but in the end, Jackson ultimately won (via Essentially Sports).


Justin Fields

Everybody knows that Chicago is where quarterbacks go to die. Sadly, Fields discovered this the hard way after doing everything in his power to take them forward. Sometimes quarterbacks are the problem because they’re not good enough. But Fields has an elite skill set and is one of the best rushing QBs in the NFL.

Sporting News

However, Bears OC Luke Getsy continues to force Fields to play in the pocket and takes away his biggest asset. This forces Fields to play outside of his comfort zone and it’s not working. Fans blame him for not throwing touchdown passes but the franchise isn’t helping him. They’re not giving him his best shot to be successful (via Northern Star).


Baker Mayfield

The Browns had a miserable 2021 season after they made the playoffs the previous year. They reacted by making Mayfield into one of the league’s biggest scapegoats. They stymied his chances of finding a good trade before signing sexual assaulter Deshaun Watson to an outrageous $230 million contract (via Fansided).


Meanwhile, they ignored the reality that Mayfield played through the pain barrier during a tough season. They didn’t give him a chance to bounce back in a ruthless decision. It’s common to blame quarterbacks when everything goes wrong but this was horrendous. If it was anybody except Watson maybe it wouldn’t have been so bad.

Dallas Morning News

Dak Prescott

Prescott’s situation is interesting because he’s a very talented quarterback. However, he’s had injury problems over the past few seasons and missed a lot of football. Whenever the Cowboys underperform, the fanbase erupts and calls for Cooper Rush to replace their franchise star.

New York Post

This is idiotic and shows the futility of turning the best players into scapegoats. Rush is the type of quarterback who a team can win games with. But Prescott will win his team’s games. It’s a subtle distinction but a very important one. Prescott entered the MVP conversation in 2023 because he was in a stable environment (via Fox Sports).


Joe Pisarcik

Pisarcik was a central figure in one of the NFL’s worst plays ever. He also became one of the most notorious scapegoats in sports history. The coaching staff ordered him to hand the ball off to Larry Csonka when the logical move was to take a knee. Herm Edwards became a hero as the ‘Miracle at the Meadowlands’ was born.

Philadelphia Eagles

Immediately, everybody turned on Pisarcik but he was under strict orders. The quarterback didn’t want to make this boneheaded play but OC Bob Gibson threatened to cut him. He was in a no-win situation and took the brunt of the heat after everything went wrong (via Bleacher Report).

Bleacher Report

Scott Norwood

Norwood is probably the biggest scapegoat in the Bills’ history. The kicker had the chance to be a hero in Super Bowl XXV and score the winning field goal. However, he infamously sent his 47-yard attempt wide-right and the Bills lost the game. It was a moment of anguish for an otherwise consistent player.


Furthermore, it stained his legacy forever which was grossly unfair because he made 72 percent of his overall kicks. It’s also worth mentioning that the Bills lost four straight Super Bowls. If they won just one of these it would take the heat off of this painful memory for this long-suffering fanbase (via Bleacher Report).


Ken Dorsey

The Bills endured very mixed fortunes in their first 10 games of the 2023 season. Their fans had big expectations after Buffalo flirted with the promised land over the previous couple of years. However, they didn’t expect a 5-5 record to start the season so head coach Sean McDermott made a ruthless call to avoid becoming a scapegoat himself.

The Athletic

He fired offensive coordinator Dorsey because he wasn’t getting the best out of Josh Allen. But many people saw this as a desperate move. Furthermore, Allen blamed himself and acknowledged that he wasn’t playing at his highest level. Dorsey was unlucky because the team was looking for scapegoats (via Fox Sports).