As the Steelers lined up for a fourth and 10 play from the Cincinnati 11-yard line on Sunday afternoon, I could feel the anxiety, the anticipation, the blood pulsating through every inch of my body.
Actually, none of that was true. Pittsburgh was trailing 24-10 with just 3:02 left in the fourth quarter and was about to drop its second-straight game in front of the home folks to start the season.
Sure, I was still holding out hope at that very moment, but the Steelers’ chances? The percentages weren’t good.
However, a touchdown would certainly have made things interesting. Would head coach Mike Tomlin have called for an onside kick? Would he have kicked it deep and hoped that his injury-deleted (not a typo) defense could force Joe Burrow and the rest of the Bengals’ offense to punt?
Actually, on second thought, I don’t want to know how Tomlin would have handled such a situation, not after what I witnessed while waiting around with faux anticipation at the 3:02 mark.
I’m talking about the little swing pass to Najee Harris that went for a grand total of minus-one yard and had zero chance of being successful the moment quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, looking like he was playing a game of hot potato, “passed” the football to his rookie running back as quickly as humanly possible.
Honestly, when I saw Harris get the football in the manner described above, I legit thought it was going to be some sort of trick play where the rookie either lateralled it back to Roethlisberger, another teammate, or simply threw it into the end zone himself, a la Jerome Bettis back in the day. I’m not telling you that my thoughts made any sense at that moment, but you have to understand, I was confused as heck!
Unfortunately, the four Bengals defenders who were between Harris and the goal line weren’t confused. Harris may have been. After all, he had just spent 57 minutes getting the living snot beaten out of him, and here he was being put in a situation where he was about to get pounded even more.
If I thought Harris was part of a trick play, he may have thought he was on the wrong end of a cruel practical joke.
It’s been days since the play, and nobody with any authority or knowledge has given an appropriate answer as to why it was called in the first place. I’m assuming Tomlin had no hand in the actual call—it was either offensive coordinator Matt Canada or Roethlisberger himself—but didn’t the head coach ask for answers after the whole thing went up in smoke?
If Tomlin did get an answer, he didn’t share it with reporters; all he could tell the media after the game was that his offense was out of bullets. Out of bullets? What does that even mean? That reminds me of the time an ex-girlfriend from a few years ago told me she couldn’t get her car washed because the place she took it to said they ran out of water. Mind you, there was no water main break. They didn’t forget to pay their water bill. Nope, they simply ran out of water for the day.
That never happens.
You also never run out of plays to call when you’re near the goal line—or near any other line on a football field. If it’s fourth down, and the opposing defense is setting up some sort of picket fence near the end zone as Roethlisberger said, don’t you still try to pass the football over or through the fence just to see if it works?
What’s the worst that could have happened? Again, the Steelers were trailing by two touchdowns. It wasn’t as if it was third down and Pittsburgh was trailing by a field goal or less.
As I alluded to earlier, Roethlisberger didn’t spend a single second surveying the field before dumping the football to Harris.
The whole thing just didn’t make sense to me or anyone else in the football world.
I guess that’s why I was expecting Najee Harris to do something with the football besides taking on four defenders with no blocking.
The Steelers were out of bullets on fourth and 10, and their best strategy was to put their rookie running back in a position where he had to be as badass as Bruce Lee in Enter the Dragon—or any other movie involving Bruce Lee.