I would like someone to explain to me why any NFL coach would see a clear opportunity to win a game in front of them and decide not to take it.
Here was the scenario in front of the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday: They had a 14-10 lead against the Baltimore Ravens at home. They were stuck inside their own 10-yard line. It was 3rd down and about 7 with two minutes left on the clock in the final quarter.
Now here’s the important part: the Ravens were out of time outs. This means that all Pittsburgh had to do was convert that 3rd-down play, and the game was effectively over. They could take a knee three times and run out the clock.
Yet for some inexplicable reason, Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin and offensive coordinator Bruce Arians decided not to even try to get the 1st down. Instead, they ran it up the middle for a couple yards, ran down the clock to about 1:15 and punted the ball away.
End result? Joe Flacco engineered a game-winning touchdown drive, and the Ravens walked out of Heinz Field with a 17-14 victory and a first-place tie with the Steelers in the AFC North.
Yes, you could quote Woody Hayes here and talk about all the things that could have possibly gone wrong with such a move. The pass could have fallen incomplete, stopping the clock. It could have been intercepted and possibly returned for a touchdown. Steelers QB Charlie Batch could have been sacked for a safety, or he could have fumbled the ball in the end zone. Yes, all of those things could have happened. But how would the result have been any different than it actually was?
Truth be told, even if something had gone wrong, the Steelers would have been in better position to fix it. If the Ravens took the ball away and scored, the Steelers would have had a lot more time left on the clock to engineer a drive to tie or win the game. The same would have been true if the 3rd-down pass had fallen incomplete and forced a punt. If the Ravens got a safety, they would still be down by 2, and their field position for their last drive might not have been quite so favorable.
In essence, Tomlin and Arians played not to lose here. They figured they could trust their defense to stop Joe Flacco more than they could trust Batch — their 3rd or 4th option at quarterback, depending on whom you ask — to complete one pass under pressure. That lack of trust in their offense proved to be their undoing in this game. Why even give Flacco the opportunity? Pittsburgh had a shot to end this game on one play, and they didn’t have guts enough to take it.
That’s what ought to frustrate Steelers fans today. Yes, Pittsburgh went 3-1 during Ben Roethlisberger’s four-game suspension for public douchebaggery, and there are plenty of positives to take away from that. Still, the Steelers let one get away at home against their most hated division rival, and that really, really blows.