I tweeted this out last night in reference to Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin’s playcalling on 3rd and 6 at the New York Jets 40-yard line with two minutes remaining in the game and a five-point lead:
“This is why I like Tomlin: instead of the safe running play on 3rd down, he passes for the first down and the win. So ballsy. #Steelers”
The reason? Like @CJ_202SB tweeted, “Give me a coach unafraid to go for the win.” That’s all there is to it, really.
Assuming that the Steelers wouldn’t have gotten the first down if Tomlin had elected to run the ball, the Jets probably would have gotten the ball back with around 1:20 left and zero timeouts. An 80-yard touchdown drive in 1:20 is absolutely doable. Not likely, but possible.
Tomlin weighed his options. His defense had just given up back-to-back drives of 88 yards and 58 yards with the latter resulting in a touchdown. The Pittsburgh offense ran just one play in between the drives, which led to a botched snap and safety. Hence, the Steeler defense had essentially been on the field for 12:38 continuously with minimal rest.
If you had the chance to seal the win with one play by gaining six yards or risk losing the game by giving the ball back to the Jets, what would you do? Worst case scenario (barring an interception): Ben Roethlisberger’s pass to Antonio Brown is incomplete, and the Jets have 30 seconds more on the clock. Either way, the Jets get the ball back, and the pressure is placed on an exhausted defense that had just given up two big drives.
So, you take it out of the Jets’ hands; if your offense can execute on one play, the game is over. The problem is, not many coaches are willing to gamble with 30 seconds of game clock. Most coaches would have taken the conservative running play and burned some time.
Not Tomlin. He went for the win, and got it. Herm Edwards obviously knew what he was talking about when he famously said, “You play to win the game!”
It’s easy to sit here, in retrospect, and rate Tomlin’s decision based on the results. But the fact of the matter is, he displayed his coaching acumen and guts by putting the Steelers in a position to control their own destiny. Now, Tomlin is headed to his second Super Bowl in only four seasons as a head coach.
In comparison, Marty Schottenheimer was one of the most conservative postseason coaches in the NFL. He coached several great teams in his career, including the 2006 San Diego Chargers, who went a league-best 14-2 in the regular season. LaDainian Tomlinson rushed for 1,815 yards and 28 touchdowns that year, and the offense ranked No. 1 in scoring. The Chargers were also the seventh-best defense in terms of points allowed.
In a game not unlike the one played last night, San Diego jumped out to a 14-3 lead in the AFC Divisional Game and seemingly had the New England Patriots in a death grip. But, in the end, Schottenheimer and the Chargers chose to play not to lose instead of to win with 8:35 left and an eight-point lead.
Result: Patriots 24 – Chargers 21. It’s not a coincidence that Schottenheimer’s last postseason victory occurred during the 1993 season with the Kansas City Chiefs or that he is only 5-13 all-time in the playoffs. In addition, he has the most wins of any NFL coach since 1966 not to reach the Super Bowl.
Numberfire.com’s Nik Bonaddio said, “He’d get up 10 or 14 points, and then sit on the ball. His teams played so tight because all he would talk about was ‘don’t make any mistakes.’”
That risk averse mentality resulted in four turnovers en route to a fourth quarter collapse that allowed the Patriots to score 11 points in 3:26 late in the game.
There’s a reason why Schottenheimer was never able to win the big one, while Tomlin is the youngest head coach to reach two Super Bowls. Give me a coach who is unafraid to go for the win, indeed.