December 20, 2009
With 4:03 remaining in the game, Jeff Reed(notes) kicked a field goal to put the Steelers ahead of the Packers, 30-28. How many times in your life have you seen a coach, after he just took the lead with under five minutes to play, attempt an onside kick?
For me, this makes one.
Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin called for the onside kick, baffling pretty much everyone. It defies just about every little bit of football logic in existence, even more than the infamous Belichick fourth-and-2 call. Troy Aikman, calling the game for Fox, couldn't even come up with a theory. Twitter went bananas on Tomlin (here's a rare profanity-free example).
The attempt failed, and the Packers took over the ball at the Steelers' 39. Tomlin was fine with that. After the game, he explained. Via Steelers Depot (where you can hear the audio for yourself):
"I'll be very bluntly honest with you. Based on the way the game was going in the second half ... first of all, I felt like, with the element of surprise, we had a chance to get it. But if we didn't get it, and they were to score, then we would have the necessary time on the clock to go down the field and score, match their score.
"Plan A didn't work. We got the ball, but we were illegal, and that was the correct call. But kind of unfolded the way you kind of envisioned it. We had thirty minutes of evidence there to show that we could drive the ball on them. We also, conversely, had 30 minutes of evidence to show they could drive the ball on us. That's why we took that risk when we did."
"Did you see our defense out there? We couldn't have stopped Kenny Rogers, let alone Aaron Rodgers(notes). I just figured if we gave them the ball at the 39, they'd score faster, so we'd at least have a chance to strike back."
As it turned out, that's exactly how things went. The Packers scored in 1:52, and the Steelers needed every last second of the 2:06 remaining to get their own score. Tomlin was a visionary.
It's actually similar to the Belichick call, except it was even less conventional, and required an even bigger pair. It worked out for Tomlin and didn't work out for Belichick, but both calls were unusual, both defied the bejeezus out of conventional football logic, and both expressed a spot-on lack of faith in the team's defense. That last part, I prefer to call "being realistic."
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