The Pittsburgh Steelers were playing catch-up in the second half after surrendering 21 points to the New England Patriots in the first half of their Week 14 Thursday Night Football showdown. Pittsburgh trailed 21-10 at the start of the fourth quarter when the defense forced a quick three-and-out by the Patriots offense that ended with Miles Killebrew blocking the punt and giving the Steelers excellent field position with 13:23 left in the game. The drive started with a run by Najee Harris for six yards. Then, Mitch Trubisky completed a pass to Darnell Washington for a first down. Then as time was winding down on the play clock for the play on first down, Pittsburgh used its first timeout with 11:15 left to go in the game.
After trying some trickery on a first and goal with tight end Connor Heyward weeping out wide and almost throwing an interception trying to target Washington, the Steelers punched it in the end zone with a one-yard quarterback keeper by Trubisky. Trubisky threw a dart to Pat Freiermuth to get the two-point conversion and put Pittsburgh down 21-18 with 11:14 left to go in the game.
On the Steelers’ next offensive possession, the team started on their 25-yard line and faced a very tough decision after Freiermuth caught a pass on third down for a four-yard gain, but was stopped a yard short of the line to gain. Deep in their own territory, down by a field goal, Pittsburgh had a dilemma to solve; try and go for it, or give the ball back to the Patriots’ offense, which was starting to be stymied by Pittsburgh’s defense in the second half. Steelers Head Coach Mike Tomlin decided to call a timeout to mull it over. Pittsburgh sent the offense out and Trubisky picked up the first down, but the drive later ended in a punt.
Former Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was very critical of his old coach’s decision to call two timeouts relatively early in the fourth quarter when Pittsburgh could have used them later in their comeback efforts. While breaking down the game with co-host Spencer Te’o on episode 46 of the Footbahlin with Ben Roethlisberger podcast, the two-time Super Bowl champion called out Tomlin for his use of timeouts.
“You can’t afford in the second half of games to burn silly timeouts and to not have them late in the game,” Roethlisberger explained. “To me, that’s bad coaching.”
Pittsburgh forced another quick three-and-out by New England and got the ball back for the offense, but the ensuing drive ended with Trubisky missing a deep shot to Diontae Johnson with single coverage. Roethlisberger said he would’ve tried the same thing.
New England was able to drain most of the clock on their next offensive possession with Pittsburgh only able to stop the clock once with their final timeout. Trubisky and the offense got one last chance with :15 seconds left, but completions to Johnson and Allen Robinson did nothing but pad stat sheets.
Steelers’ Roethlisberger Explains His Perspective On Clock Management
Roethlisberger said that he used to have all kinds of conversations with Offensive Coordinators Bruce Arians and Randy Fichtner, and even Coach Tomlin about clock management. He said the mentality of using timeouts needs to dramatically change in the second half versus perhaps being a bit more liberal in the first.
He explained that sometimes it’s worth taking a five-yard penalty for delay of game rather than to burn a timeout that you might need later in the game. This was the type of conversation he would have with coaches.
“There’s some feel you have to have in those situations because timeouts can be so valuable as we saw in this game. If we have one more timeout there, we get a completion, we can work the middle of the field and all you got to do is give Boz [Chris Boswell] a 60-yard chance. Give him a chance and he’ll tie the game. I like my chances in overtime because they scored all their points early and the momentum had shifted.”
Roethlisberger said it’s really a feel thing, but he didn’t like the way that Tomlin used his timeouts in this game. Dialogue in practice and getting those conversations to be on the same page are key to making sure that time management is where it needs to be.