NFL is all about calculation. There are no coin flips in the game save for Hail Marys and, well, actually coin flips before the game. Every play has a purpose, and there is a clear understanding where the play will lead to – both if it works, and if it fails.
This is true for virtually every play called in an NFL game, and trick plays are no exception. The only thing different is that there is a greater degree of the risk of failure – which is mitigated by the surprise factor.
So when the Lions called a fake Field Goal in the 4th quarter of their game against the Steelers – while leading by four – it was not a coin flip. It was a very calculated move, and Jim Schwartz knew exactly where he was going if the play succeeds or fails – and he was fine with both.
It is simple – if the play works - which was likely, Lions probably score a TD (on this very play or any of the ones that follow) and get up by 11 points with under 13 minutes to go. The win is in the pocket.
If the play fails, however, the Steelers are pinned down against their end zone with 90+ yards to drive to go ahead in the game – the 4th down snap was from Pittsburgh’s 10. And considering the fact that Steelers’ previous five drives ended in four punts and a field goal, that Pittsburgh had a total of 16 rushing yards to this point in the game, and passing in a driving rain is hard – a three-and-out and a punt that would be fielded around midfield was very likely. Not too bad for the visitors.
The announcers of the game made a great point, according to which a coach calling a trick play that works is a brave genius, and if it fails, he is a goat. It may be true, but not in a case of a very calculated and sound approach - which is certainly was.
The fumble by the Detroit holder may have given the Steelers some momentum. Not they needed the takeaway – the runner would not have reached the 1st down marker anyway, but the turnover certainly caused a spark. And then Big Ben found his groove and the Steelers went on an epic drive that broke the Lions’ backbone.
I don’t want to hear anyone saying that the Lions handed the win to the Steelers by taking unnecessary risks. It was the Steelers who took over the game and dominated it in the 2nd half - and form that 93-harder on - on both sides of the ball.
This was against the odds. It was a classic game of an upstart and desperate underdog jumping out to an early lead, only to see the more powerful and heavily favorite opposition methodically bite away from that lead to move ahead before the halftime. It is extremely difficult to overcome that.
The fact that the Steelers shut down their opposition in the third quarter went largely unnoticed after the 2nd period fireworks. It was a 7-point comeback that felt like the Steelers got themselves out of a 28-point hole. And that 93-yard drive – an instant classic – may (just may) be a mark of a marvelous turnaround of the Steelers season.
All of a sudden the Steelers are just a game out of a playoff spot. But they would need to string together a bunch of wins if they want to play in January. This game was just a step in the right direction and will mean nothing if the Steelers fail to win at Cleveland.
On to next week.