Mike Tomlin’s decision-making was called into question as the Steelers lost to the Browns in the Wild Card round of the NFL playoffs.
The crazy thing is, they still had a chance in the game after falling behind 28-0 in the first quarter.
Ben Roethlisberger threw for 500 yards and four touchdowns while trying to make up for his four interceptions. Diontae Johnson and JuJu Smith-Schuster put up big numbers as well.
In the end, whatever efforts the Steelers players made were ultimately foiled in part by the decision-making of their head coach.
Mike Tomlin has some explaining to do on these three costly mistakes:
Surrender-punting from the 38
The game started incredibly poorly for the Steelers but one of the most demoralizing moments had nothing to do with bad snaps or interceptions. When Tomlin sent out the punt team on 4th-and-9 from the Cleveland 38, it was the ultimate surrender punt.
PIT decided to punt to CLE from the CLE 38 on 4th & 9 with 12:19 remaining in the 2nd while losing 0 to 28.
With a Surrender Index of 27.75, this punt ranks at the 99.4th percentile of cowardly punts of the 2020 season, and the 98th percentile of all punts since 2009.
— Surrender Index (@surrender_index) January 11, 2021
The message that decision sent to the team was entirely negative.
Going for two
The analytics would argue a football team should always go for two, but the practice can backfire so spectacularly coaches deserve to get roasted for it.
Tomlin opted to go for two on Pittsburgh’s first touchdown of the third quarter only to see the attempt fall incomplete. On the next score, they took the PAT. When Chase Claypool caught a TD in the fourth quarter, another failed two-point conversion followed.
If the Steelers had just taken the points, they would have been down by 11 instead of 13. That’s a touchdown and a field goal instead of two TDs.
Ultimately it didn’t matter, because Cleveland kicked two field goals, but it was still frustrating.
Punting on 4th-and-1
Truthfully, the comeback attempt was put to bed when Tomlin decided to punt on 4th-and-1 from the Pittsburgh 46. At that point, the Steelers trailed by 12 (which could have been 11) and had the Browns on the ropes. If there was ever a time to be bold and take a chance, it was that moment.
Instead, Pittsburgh attempted to draw Cleveland offsides and took a delay of game penalty before punting. The Browns found new life on the ensuing drive as Nick Chubb broke free for a 40-yard touchdown catch.