Kyle Williams vs Billy Cundiff: Which Player Is Bigger Playoff Choke Artist?

Eitan KatzAnalyst IIJanuary 24, 2012

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After Kyle Williams fumbled away the San Francisco 49ers' chances against the New York Giants and Billy Cundiff missed his now-infamous field goal to tie it up against the New England Patriots, a theme seemed to emerge from Championship Sunday: two games, two goats.

Well, two games, three goats, if you want to include Lee Evans.

But I digress.

We are here to dissect the "goat-rating" of Williams and Cundiff. So while Lee Evans may have cost the Ravens a chance at the Super Bowl just as much as Cundiff did, he will remain outside the conversation.

Let's take a look at their blunders.

Kyle Williams' Mistakes

As we all know by know, Williams was the 49ers punt returner who let the ball graze his knee on a punt with 11:08 remaining in the fourth quarter of a game where his team held a four-point lead and both teams were struggling to score. 

The G-Men recovered and subsequently scored a touchdown to take the lead.

First of all, why did he move close enough to a bouncing ball that there would have even been the slightest chance that it could have hit his body? Secondly, and probably most importantly, once it DID hit him, why didn't he go after it?

Did he honestly think that no one would notice? That in the biggest game of his career, and the biggest game for Niners fans in about a decade, no one would realize that the football nicked his knee?


That is called stupidity. That is called inexperience. 

Then again, people make mistakes. Williams, a 23-year-old, second-year player out of Arizona State University, is no exception.

San Francisco head coach Jim Harbaugh had no choice but to leave him in. Not only was that his only miscue of the game up to that point, but with return extraordinaire Ted Ginn Jr. out with a knee injury, Williams was his only realistic option.

The rest is history. 

With 9:32 remaining in the overtime period, Williams was stripped on a punt return at the San Francisco 24-yard line. Five plays later, Lawrence Tynes nailed a 31-yard field goal and Eli Manning and the Giants were back to the Super Bowl for the second time in the last four years.

Game over.

Williams, whose gaffes led to both the Giants' ability to take the lead in the fourth, and win the game in overtime, was the obvious goat. After all, had he held onto the pigskin, the 49ers would have almost certainly have won the game.

Bill Cundiff's Mistake


Notice the difference between the two yet?

Williams made mistakes, while Cundiff had just the one.

The Ravens were down three with under a minute to go, and they were deep in Patriots territory. They were going for the kill (RE: touchdown), knowing that if they failed, they would have a "chip shot" field goal available to send the game to overtime.

We've all seen what happened next.

Lee Evans dropped an easy touchdown grab, Joe Flacco threw an incompletion, and with :11 ticks on the clock, Cundiff hooked a 32-yard field goal wide left.

Game over.

Cundiff's miss would have tied the game up for Baltimore and assured them a chance in overtime. Instead, Terrell Suggs said "oh my god," head coach John Harbaugh said "he missed it," and Bill Belichick, Tom Brady and the Pats move onwards to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl for the fifth time in the last 11 years.


This one is a no-brainer—Williams is the bigger goat.

Cundiff blew an easy kick, a kick he probably hits 99 times out of 100. However, Lee Evans could easily have been the goat for his dropped touchdown pass, and moreover, who's to say that the Ravens would have even won in overtime?


The situation at Candlestick Park was totally different. Grantland's Bill Barnwell breaks down the nitty-gritty of how Williams' mistakes were a direct cause of the loss for San Francisco:

To some extent, it's "fairer" to scapegoat Kyle Williams [as opposed to Cundiff] for the 49ers' loss to the Giants in overtime on Sunday. New York's chances of winning leaped from just 22 percent to 46 percent after Williams' muffed punt handed them the ball, and hopped from 52 percent to 85 percent when Williams fumbled the ball away a second time in overtime. Those are pretty enormous swings, and while Williams did contribute a 40-yard kickoff return in the fourth quarter that set up the game-tying Niners field goal, he caught just one of the five passes thrown to him. If he didn't cost San Francisco the game on his own, he was a huge part of the equation.

Cundiff made one mistake one time. He didn't cost his team a win, he cost them a chance at a win. Williams lost the ball on two separate occasions at two big junctures of the game, and almost definitely cost his team a victory.

While Billy Cundiff may be labeled the goat in Baltimore, across America, people should know that on Sunday it was Kyle Williams who was the biggest goat of them all.