In a game that featured two critical fumbles by the Pittsburgh Steelers in scoring territory and a number of questionable calls by the referees, the play that might earn the most column inches in the coming days could be Mike Tomlin’s decision to call a fake punt on 4-and-5 at their own 42-yard line with 4.11 left in the game.
Despite his first down celebrations, Roosevelt Nix would come up a yard short on the play, gifting the New Orleans Saints the ball on the 46-yard line.
The huge celebration after a failed fake punt might be the funniest NFL moment of the year.pic.twitter.com/RIkUfpuMD9— Sporting News (@sportingnews) December 24, 2018
When speaking to the press after the game, while Tomlin initially offered little explanation for the fake punt in his opening statement about the loss.
“Obviously, I chose to go for a fake punt. We were unsuccessful there. I take responsibility for that.”
The first question from the media unsurprisingly asked him to further explain his rationale for the call.
“I just wanted to be aggressive. I wanted to ensure that we had an opportunity to win the game. I thought. First of all I liked the play, the concept, I thought we had a chance to get it. But I thought where the game was and the time which was left in the game, I thought that if we did not stop them, that we would have an opportunity to have the ball last, and we did. But obviously, unsuccessful nonetheless.”
#LIVE: Coach Tomlin addresses the media following today’s game vs. the Saints in the @IronCityBeer Postgame Press Conference. https://t.co/omSabC8IlM— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) December 24, 2018
Even if Nix had made the first down, it would have been hard to suggest it was a great call. Asking your fullback who has not carried the ball all season to get five yards on one run was always a huge ask and the potential downsides of the decision would seem to have far outweighed the benefits of going for it.
After three straight drives without points, the turnover on downs re-energized both the crowd and a Saints offense that took almost three minutes off the clock on a 10-play drive that ended with the go-ahead touchdown.
While Tomlin would prove to be correct in his assumption that Pittsburgh would get the ball back with time to get into scoring range themselves should New Orleans still score, there are many fans who would have prefered him to punt the ball away and give his defense a longer field to protect. How that would have worked out will we never know, but for Tomlin’s detectors, this decision will likely be held against him for some time should the Steelers fail to make the playoffs.