Steelers clock management caused mess

Had Pittsburgh been smarter about time, there would have been no last Chargers play for the officials to screw up.

By King Kaufman
Published November 17, 2008 10:50PM (UTC)
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What's funny about the whole officiating mess in Pittsburgh Sunday is that it would never have happened if the Steelers had managed the clock correctly.

The 32-yard field goal by Jeff Reed that gave the Steelers the lead with 11 seconds to go should have been kicked as time expired. There never should have been an ensuing kickoff or a play from scrimmage by the San Diego Chargers.


The Steelers kicked on third down. They'd called timeout following the holding penalty -- a clear, correct call, conspiracy theorists -- that had nullified a Willie Parker touchdown run. With 15 seconds to go, Pittsburgh had two timeouts remaining, the Chargers had none.

What Mike Tomlin should have done was call for quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to take a knee on third down, then call timeout with one second left. At that point, Reed would have come on to kick about a 34-yard field goal, pretty much the same thing as a 32-yarder, and it would have been for the win. Make it for a victory, miss it for a loss, period.

That's what Reed was doing with 15 seconds left, except without the period. If he'd missed, the Steelers would have lost, but if he made it, which he did, the Chargers still had a chance. Why is that a better situation for the Steelers?


Because of the bizarro coaching idea that kicking on third down gives the team margin for error. If the snap is fumbled or muffed, the kicking team can fall on it and try the kick again on fourth down.

The problem is, this never happens. Muffed or fumbled snaps are rare enough. Now consider, once that snap isn't fielded cleanly, who's more likely to recover it. The kneeling holder and his soccer-player pal, or the 11 defenders bearing down on them at full speed?

Have you ever seen a messed-up field-goal attempt on third down, followed by a successful one on fourth? I haven't. But I've seen a few amazing, sensational, dramatic, heart-rending, exciting, thrilling finishes on kickoff returns and Hail Mary passes.


If you can take the lead and end the game without letting your opponent touch the ball, you do it. You don't guard against something that has a minuscule chance of happening -- a smaller chance than a bad result you're making possible. Period. Why do I have to keep explaining this?

King Kaufman

King Kaufman is a senior writer for Salon. You can e-mail him at king at salon dot com. Facebook / Twitter / Tumblr

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