The Complete History of the “I Can’t Throw to Myself” Excuse from Wide Receivers
Wide receivers in the NFL tend to get tagged with the “diva” label more often than players at other positions. But it is a hard position, and perhaps the one most dependent on other players. Sometimes this dependency can lead to frustration, and sometimes receivers express that frustration publicly. Already this season, two receivers — the Giants’ Hakeem Nicks and the Jets’ Santonio Holmes — have turned to a tried-and-true wide receiver blame-deflecting line: “I can’t throw the ball to myself.”
It’s a line that denies personal fault while simultaneously casting a glowering side-eye at teammates, coaches, and coordinators. Here is a history of some of the most celebrated uses of the “I can’t throw the ball to myself” defense in recent NFL history:
Holmes is the most recent pass-catcher to turn to this classic wide receiver trope. After the Jets’ 38-13 Week Four loss to the Titans, Holmes vented, “I can’t throw it to myself and catch it, otherwise I would. I played 49 plays and all I know is I had one catch. That’s all I can attest for.”
Result: Holmes didn’t exactly walk the walk. He was inactive for the Jets’ Week Five win over the Falcons, so he couldn’t have caught the ball even if someone was throwing it to him.
Nicks beat Holmes by a week with his blame game. After the Giants got blown out 38-0 by the Panthers in Week Three, Nicks, who had zero catches on the day, took to the media.
“It’s part of the game,” Nicks told NJ.com. “You’ve got to control what you can control. I can’t throw it to myself.”
Result: Well, the Giants still stink, but at least Nicks is playing better! In the two games since Nicks explained basic football concepts, he’s caught 12 passes for 175 yards.
It should come as a surprise to no one that Owens is on this list. His tantrum came in Cincinnati in 2010, when he was playing out his last NFL season. T.O. was having a decent year, but the Bengals flat-out stunk. And after a Week Fourteen loss dropped them to 2-11, Owens opened up.
“Sometimes I just feel like I’m out there running,” he said after the loss in which he caught one ball for 22 yards. “I can’t throw the ball to myself.”
Result: A lot of guys on this list had underwhelming performances following their outbursts. T.O.’s was the worst. Worst as in, never caught a professional pass again. The Bengals placed him on injured reserve and Owens hasn’t played since.
James Jones had just played the best game of his young career in Week Nine of the 2010 season. In a 45-7 rout of the Cowboys, Jones caught 8 balls for 123 yards and a score. So why explain how passing works? In two of the three games prior to his breakout, Jones caught exactly zero passes. So when the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel asked why he had been so inconsistent, Jones had this to say: “James Jones could play better, yes. But James Jones believes to be up, you need opportunities. I can’t throw the ball to myself. I can’t do that.”
Result: Jones finished 2010 with 50 catches, 679 yards and 5 touchdowns, which are solid, if unspectacular numbers. The Packers went on to win the Super Bowl, in which Jones had 5 catches for 50 yards. And Jones has improved every year, culminating in 2012, when he caught 14 TDs. James Jones approves of James Jones’ career arc.
After Week Three in 2010, the Eagles were 2-1 and Michael Vick had briefly made Jackson a star. But after Kevin Kolb replaced an injured Vick, Jackson was held to just 5 catches for 43 yards in Weeks Four and Five combined. So he took to the now-familiar gold standard of responsibility avoidance by targeting a quarterback who was only playing due to injury.
“It’s out of my hands,” Jackson said. “I can’t call plays to myself and I can’t throw the ball to myself.”
Result: Vick came back from his injury and Jackson got back to putting up big numbers. He finished the year with 47 catches for 1056 yards and 6 TDs. He hasn’t posted a 1000 receiving yard season since, but Chip Kelly’s arrival appears to have rejuvenated his career a bit, and he has 525 yards through five games in 2013.
Some people look at Freddie Mitchell and see a failed first-round pick who only played four seasons in the NFL. Freddie Mitchell looks at Freddie Mitchell and sees a misunderstood football genius who was never put in a position to succeed. In 2009 — four years after he played his last NFL snap — Mitchell posted a question on his blog from a fan asking if The People’s Champ thought his career had been a bust. Here’s what FredEx had to say: “First off, this is a pretty lame question. I did everything the Eagles asked of me and after all, I can’t throw the ball to myself … lol.”
Result: Like most of Mitchell’s career, there haven’t been many results. At the time, Mitchell had been out of pro football for four years. Four years after his bold statement, Mitchell is still out of football. At least FredEx will always been known as the man who caused the normally tight-lipped Bill Belichick to say, “All he does is talk. He’s terrible, and you can print that. I was happy when he was in the game.”
Although the 2004 Jets made the playoffs, wide receiver Santana Moss was disgruntled. After a stellar 2003, his numbers were down, and he finished the regular season with 45 catches for 838 yards and 5 TDs. According to the Herald News (NJ), Moss expressed frustration with the team’s inability to find an offensive “flow.” Moss kept it short and sweet, saying, “I can’t throw the ball to myself.”
Result: Moss played well in the Jets’ two playoff games following his statement. In New York’s Wild Card round win over San Diego, Moss had 4 catches for 100 yards and a score. In the Jets’ divisional round loss to the Steelers, Moss was held to 31 yards on 4 catches, but he did return a punt 75 yards for a TD, which is almost like throwing the ball to yourself.
Dillon is a rare bird on this list as A) he is not a wide receiver and B) he was not actually expressing discontent with any teammates. Rather, he took the opportunity to throw some big-time shade at his crummy former team. In the week leading up to the 2005 Super Bowl, Dillon, who had just played his first season with the Patriots after seven productive but losing years with the Bengals, was asked a question by the New York Times about being just another player on the Patriots, rather than a star. He answered, “It’s a big relief. And that’s what a team should be. You should have 53 guys you can count on. It shouldn’t have to be one guy’s responsibility to go out there and win the game. I can’t throw the ball to myself; I can’t do any of those things. We rely on other people, and it’s refreshing I can just go out there and do my part of the job.”
Result: The Patriots beat the Eagles in the Super Bowl, 24-21. Dillon ran for 75 yards and a score, and caught three passes, none of which he threw to himself.
After Week Twelve of the 2001 season, Johnson lead the NFL with 83 catches. His Buccaneers were 6-5 and solidly in the playoff hunt. But Keyshawn had a problem — none of his 83 catches came in the end zone. Through 11 games, he had scored no touchdowns. So Johnson sounded off.
“I do what they ask me to do,” he told the New York Times. “That’s all I can do. I can’t throw the ball to myself. I can’t make [quarterback Brad] Johnson into something that the Bucs don’t want. I can’t make Tony Dungy do something he’s not used to. So I just do what I can.”
Result: Johnson got into the end zone for his only score of the season the very next week. He would play two more years in Tampa Bay, where he scored eight more touchdowns.
After coach Jim Fassel benched Toomer in the second half of the Giants’ 19-14 win over the Cowboys in Week Seven of the 2000 season, Toomer was not a happy camper. The wide receiver, who posted 1183 yards the year before, had this to say: “I can’t throw the ball to myself. I can’t call my own number. I can do what I can do. I can’t control a lot of the other stuff. I can play, I know I can play, that’s not the issue.”
Result: Toomer went on to finish the year strong, with 78 catches, 1094 yards and 7 TDs. He played every season of his 13-year career with the Giants, and retired with 9497 yards on 668 catches, which were all thrown by someone else.
In 1994, his third season in the NFL, former Heisman Trophy winner Howard was struggling to fight the bust label. His Redskins were 2-11, and he was having a thoroughly middling year (although it would turn out to be the best of his career). But he managed to put together a couple decent games, and after a Week Fourteen loss to Tampa Bay in which Howard caught 5 balls for 130 yards and a score, coach Norv Turner proclaimed that Howard was “doing things better than he was 12 or 14 weeks ago.” Apparently, this didn’t rub Howard the right way, because he responded with that classic yet simple line, “I can’t throw the ball to myself.”
Result: Howard never had more than 276 receiving yards in a season again.
The only supermodel on the list! And that’s not the only wrinkle Gisele brings: instead of complaining about someone’s throwing ability, she was irked by someone’s catching ability, specifically, the Patriots’ receivers following their loss in the 2012 Super Bowl to the Giants. That game notably featured a drop from Wes Welker that would have all but sealed a Patriots win. As Gisele, who is married to New England quarterback Tom Brady, left the stadium following the loss, she was heckled by some Giants fans. Her response: “You have to catch the ball when you’re supposed to catch the ball. My husband cannot f—— throw the ball and catch the ball at the same time. I can’t believe they dropped the ball so many times.”
Result: An impressive demonstration of football knowledge. However, there appears to be no record of Gisele either throwing or catching a pass in the NFL since. Also, Brady’s receiving corps now is demonstrably worse than it was two years ago.