It sure doesn't hurt to win the game, either.
Mike Tomlin was spinning his best lines regarding the late-game onside kick gambit he pulled late in the fourth quarter. You just went up by two points with under four minutes to go in the game, and you pull a surprise onside kick (that your cover team ineptly messes up anyway).
Let's color this what it is. It was a huge gamble. It was a "let's pray we get the ball and can sit on it for a long time, then punt". If it works out (low percentage), it's genius. If it doesn't (high percentage), it gives the ball to the Packers on the wrong side of the field and plenty of time to work with it. The element of surprise is the key thing here, mainly because no sane coach who values his job would attempt such a risk. And, if that ball had taken even a slightly different trajectory from its bounce, it just might have worked.
Tomlin, however, explained this failure as working completely into the Steelers master plan. Seriously. He makes it sound as if he PLANNED on having the Packers score, and scoring so quickly that the Steelers would have more than enough time to then score on them back!!!
"I'll be very bluntly honest with you, based on the way the game was going in the second half, first of all I thought 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 necessary time on the clock to score or match their score. Plan A didn't work, we got the ball but we were illegal, that was the correct call, but it kind of unfolded the way you envisioned it.
"We had 30 minutes of evidence that we could drive the ball on them, we also conversely had 30 minutes of evidence to show they could also drive the ball on us. That's why we took the risk when we did. We were just trying to win the football game. There was time left in that game that had we kicked that ball away and the half had gone the way that it'd gone, they were converting third downs. They would have moved the ball down the field on us, we wouldn't have had necessary time to respond. I'm just being honest, but it starts with feeling pretty good about the element of surprise and having a good chance to get that ball, but that part of it didn't work out."
If we could somehow condense all that down into one sentence, it would look like this: "If it didn't work, we figured they'd score on us, and do it quickly we have a chance at the end to come back."
Now, as Tomlin is basking in the glory of a last-second win that revitalized the players and fan base, and got him of the snide of a five-game losing streak that essentially took them out of the playoffs, it's pretty easy to spin that into a winning strategy move. But, it makes little sense.
A smart team would drive down the field and take time off the clock. When you put the ball in the other team's hands, you have given up control of the clock. Period. And, indeed, you put yourself in the position to either burn your timeouts and leave yourself at the mercy of chance, or you let them score in order to get the control back.
But the Packers were out of timeouts. Even with 3:48 still on the clock, it would limit what Rodgers and Co. could do offensively on a long field. Giving the Packers a 39 yard field to work with, especially given they only needed a field goal to go ahead, was essentially giving them all they needed to have the momentum their way.
Give the Packers a 79 yard field to work with, with the Steelers in a nickel/dime defense, and they would have needed exactly what the Steelers needed on the very next drive...a lot of calls going their way, some no-calls going their way, and some really lucky and timely plays.
According to Tomlin, you would think that he intentionally let the Packers score, just so he would have the ball last in the game. Didn't he learn anything from watching Super Bowl XXXII, when Mike Holmgren let Terrell Davis score so they would get a chance to have a game-winning drive at the end of the game? How did that work out for them, when the Broncos went into a stop-the-pass defense and prevented the Packers from scoring through the air?
It's not a safe bet, and face it...had the Steelers not gotten some help from the referees, the game would have been over long before they were in field goal range. And, have to admit, Ben Rothlisberger made some amazing throws, too, against the "#1 defense in the NFL".
If this is what Tomlin is sellin', I ain't buyin'. Kind of reminds me of the guys sitting around after deer camp, embellishing the story of how they got their buck. When you don't get your buck, no one believes your tall tales. But when you do, you get a little more play with how you can spin the story...after all, the evidence is right there. Right?
Tomlin owes Big Ben and Mike Wallace (and perhaps the officiating crew) a nice fruit basket this holiday season, because they bailed him out of a pretty high-risk, all-or-nothing gambit that by all rights should have been egg all over his face. I've been told in the past that we ignorant fans should never question the play-calling by these highly trained NFL head coaches, but that sure would take all the fun out writing about them, wouldn't it?
In one stroke, Tomlin made a risky choice, robbed his defense of an opportunity to make a game-defining stop on a long field, and put all the pressure back on his quarterback with scant time left. Give Rothlisberger credit for coming through on a fourth quarter comeback.
Speaking of 20/20 hindsight, I'm just as entertained by the number of folks who insist James Jones should have taken a knee at the one-yard line. Oh, sure, in retrospect, but you gave them two minutes and a long field against the #1 defense in the NFL, playing nothing but pass. Jones did fine. Put the blame where it belongs.