January 09, 2011
The New York Jets were content. A long kickoff return and a few short plays had moved the ball to the Indianapolis Colts' 33-yard line late in Saturday's AFC wild-card playoff game. That was in range for kicker Nick Folk(notes), who would be called upon to boot a potentially game-winning 51-yard field goal with a few seconds left. All the Jets needed to do was run down the clock to set up Folk's attempt.
Clinging to a one-point lead with 29 seconds left in the game, this was the best-case scenario for Indianapolis. New York would have a chance to win, but with the lengthy distance of the try there was a reasonable chance Folk would miss the kick. When the Jets ran the ball to the middle of the field on first-and-10, Indianapolis had to be relieved. They were playing for the field goal. There was still hope.
And then Colts coach Jim Caldwell did something that was so inexplicable, so bizarre and so mind-bogglingly stupid, that it still defies belief one day later. He called his final timeout.
Peyton Manning's(notes) face says it all. He knows the timeout could, and likely will, backfire. After leading his team to fourth-quarter comeback, he's watching it all slip away. In the immediate aftermath of the timeout, Manning seems to go through the five stages of grief: denial ("no, that couldn't have been us that called the timeout"); anger ("what's Irsay's phone number. I need to tell him to fire this idiot Caldwell. I'll be player-coach next year"); bargaining ("eh, who knows? Maybe it'll work. This could be the earliest icing of a kicker ever"); depression ("why me? Tom Brady(notes) gets Belichick, I get Caldwell") and acceptance ("I'm going to be 9-10 in the playoffs. They're going to call me 'Marino' when I retire.")
What could have possessed Caldwell to call that timeout? What was he thinking? Why would you ever allow a jumpy Mark Sanchez(notes) to take a breather or the Jets staff to reconsider playing for a long kick or the offense time to realize that there were plays open down the side of the field? Jim Caldwell essentially gave the Jets a fourth timeout. And, even worse, he helped convince the team to go for the jugular rather than play it safe.
The coach was asked about it after the game and gave the sort of clueless explanation you'd expect from someone who had just taken one of the worst timeouts you'll ever see:
"I didn't care [if they were going to kick.] I was going to make sure they couldn't. Make them snap the ball. They were in field goal range."
"They were in field goal range. So we wanted to try to make them snap the ball as many times as they possibly could. Wasn't going to let them just sit there and take [the clock] down. So [we] used a timeout in that situation."
Essentially, Jim Caldwell was hoping Mark Sanchez would turn into Joe Pisarcik and make such an egregious error that Indianapolis wouldn't have to face a field goal. That strategy would have been acceptable if the Jets had already been in chip-shot range. You can try to force a catastrophic mistake when there's no hope you can win the game. But a 51-yard field goal is no gimme. As a coach, Caldwell may not like the fact that his defense let the Jets get that close, but you accept that, all things being even, a 51-yard field goal is better for you than a 33-yard one.
[Related: Unusual move for attention-loving Rex Ryan]
Nope. Jim Caldwell called timeout, an awful, pointless timeout that helped New York's chances of victory go from possible to probable.
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