Many things went wrong in the Steelers' 21-18 loss to the Oakland Raiders. One mistake leads to a series of other situations and consequences because of it.
Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is taking the brunt of that criticism, mostly centered around his decision to call timeout with the playclock winding down with 1:43 remaining in the game.
Roethlisberger had just completed a pass to running back Le'Veon Bell, who was tackled out of bounds. Roethlisberger told the media, including Steelers.com reporter Mike Prisuta, Roethlisberger's attention was with two officials, who were discussing whether Oakland had horse collar-tackled Bell.
According to Prisuta, Roethlisberger said " “I ran over there because the ref was grabbing for his flag for a horse-collar call on Le’Veon, and then he didn’t (make the call). The ref asked (another official), ‘Was there a horse collar?’ They were kind of discussing it, and I guess they decided not to call it. By the time we got back to the huddle, you look up and there’s three seconds (on the play clock) by the time we break the huddle.”
One event led to a series of others, none of which worked in favor of the Steelers.
It appears, upon replay, there was suitable cause for a flag; Bell was taken down in a manner that has drawn a flag for a horse collar tackle in the past, in my opinion. Roethlisberger probably spent too much time waiting for the flag, but at the same time, the officials gave him legitimate reason to think a flag would be thrown.
Because Roethlisberger did not get back to the huddle in time to smoothly call the play and get set, he called time out. He could have taken a five-yard penalty, something he spoke after the game as if he was aware of the choice he had.
“You either take 5 yards (for delay of game) or you take the timeout,” Roethlisberger said, as quoted by Prisuta. “I know timeouts are valuable but I thought 5 yards were, too, so I had to burn it.”
The Steelers eventually scored on the drive, as well as converted for two points. The onside kick they attempted was easily recovered by the Raiders, leaving the Steelers with two timeouts.
As the Steelers defense had throughout the second half - the Raiders rushed for eight yards through the third and fourth quarters - stopped them on three straight runs, but without that last timeout, the Raiders bled the clock down to 15 seconds after the kick. Antonio Brown's punt return actually lost yards, leading to a pass straight down the middle of the field to Emmanuel Sanders - who seemed to try to break four tackles before remembering it's likely the last play of the game. He proceeded to attempt to fumble the ball forward, but to no avail.
Timeout or otherwise, Roethlisberger appears defensive in his comments, but the issue here isn't the timeout; it's the time spent with the officials, who appeared to have talked themselves out of a flag for a horse collar tackle. Roethlisberger's presence in the conversation did not help the team, but his actions after that - calling the timeout - seems less important.
Weighing five yards against a timeout is a granular approach to hindsight-is-20/20. The fact is neither result were likely to have helped the team. At that point, though, the Steelers still needed to score, get the 2-point conversion and then recover the onside kick.
If Roethlisberger's mismanagement of the clock is a significant issue, so is Shaun Suisham's onside kick that appeared to travel as if attracted by magnet to the Raiders' hands team. So was Brown's punt return attempt that lost as many yards as seconds off the clock.
When the rubber meets the road, it was a string of very unlikely events, and the undoing was the fact the team simply didn't do enough through the first 58:17 to be in a strong position to win.
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