Still hard to comprehend Steelers’ last-second bungling in Patriots loss

Mike Tomlin and Todd Haley, c’mon down!

You are now members in good standings of the NFL coaches Game Mismanagement Club.

Pete Carroll and Darrell Bevell of Seattle and Dan Quinn and Kyle Shanahan, who was then in Atlanta, are among the members.

Carroll-Bevell and Quinn-Shanahan both lost Super Bowls because of their game management blunders.

We all remember Seattle being a yard from a second consecutive Super Bowl title before the Seahawks braintrust decided to have Russell Wilson throw from the one on second down instead of running Marshawn Lynch. We all know how that worked out.

And last year the Falcons had a 28-3 lead, but didn’t milk the clock and didn’t run the ball three times with four minutes left and kick a field goal to take an 11-point lead. Instead the braintrust decided to throw on second down and a penalty and then a sack pushed them out of field goal range and the Patriots rallied to win in overtime.

What the Steelers did in the last two minutes was right out of the Seattle-Atlanta playbook and handed New England another victory.

The Steelers almost made too many mistakes to count.

They didn’t double-team Rob Gronkowski on the Patriots’ final drive as he caught three passes for 69 yards and a two-point conversion.

Gronkowski has a history of torching the Steelers, and Tomlin’s comments afterwards were stunning.

“He (Gronkowski) was very good and so was their quarterback,’’ he said. “I’d be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge those things.’’


Is he suggesting they just can’t cover him? Tomlin also seemed to suggest it was all too complex for more reporters or fans to understand.

Tomlin said he understood the second guessing and then added, “But you’re not going to find some of the answers you guys are looking for. That’s a myriad of layers to some of these discussions. They’re complex. None of it is very black and white. That’s how games unfold from time to time.’’

Say what?

Anyway, despite giving up eight points that put the Patriots ahead by three, the Steelers still had a chance to win or force overtime when Ju Ju Smith-Schuster caught a pass and ran 69 yards to the Patriot 10.

Then things started to go wrong for the Steelers. Official Tony Corrente called time out with 34 seconds left because he saw Ben Roethlisberger signaling timeout to Tomlin.

But Roethlisberger was trying to ask Tomlin if he wanted one, and it turns out Tomlin didn’t want the timeout. That lost timeout would prove costly. Roethlisberger should have just run down the field and let Tomlin decide what to do.

Then came the play of the season when Jesse James appeared to catch a pass and stretched over the goal line and then hit the ground and didn’t appear to secure the ball.

One overlooked factor is that the Steelers receivers should be coached not to stretch over the goal line. Receivers don’t score by just breaking the plane. They have to secure the ball. James should have tried to secure the catch first.

The officials on the field ruled a touchdown, but it was overturned by replay official Alberto Riveron.

Meanwhile, things were getting more bizarre. Tomlin said the officials were talking on the field that if James were ruled down on the one, they would take a 10 second runoff from 28 to 18 seconds.

That seemed to be the least likely scenario. The issue seemed to be catch or no catch.

But Tomlin said the discussion was mostly about placing it on the one.

“That scenario maintained most of our attention,’’ Tomlin said.

What should have gotten their attention was to call two plays during the delay, but the braintrust called only one.

Roethlisberger’s next mistake was not throwing the ball to a receiver in the end zone on second down or throwing it away if nobody was open in the end zone.

Instead, he threw a short pass to Darrius Heyward-Bey, who was tackled in bounds for a three-yard gain as the clock continued to run.

Roethlisberger then yelled “clock, clock,’’ and it appeared he would spike the ball on third down and the Steelers would kick a field goal to send it into overtime.

But Tomlin wanted to try to win it in regulation and wanted to run a play, and Haley told Roethlisberger not to spike it.

The problem was the Steeler offensive players weren’t prepared to run a play. They were thinking Roethlisberger would spike the ball.

“Guys are all over the place,” Roethlisberger said.

Roethlisberger didn’t think he had time to line them up and call a play. So he gave receiver Ed Rogers a signal to run a route. Rogers ran an inside slant where three Patriots were stationed.

Roethlisberger should have thrown the ball out of the end zone, but he threw it in the direction of Rogers and the ball was tipped and intercepted.

The only consolation for Tomlin and Haley was that, unlike the Seahawks and Falcons when they made their mistakes, it wasn’t the Super Bowl. So they have a chance to redeem themselves.

But they’ve probably lost the home field advantage if they get to the AFC title game and will likely go to New England. That is what will happen if the Steelers and Patriots win their final two regular season games to secure byes and then both win their first round games at home.

The other consolation for the Steelers is that they played without their best defensive player (Ryan Shazier) and a half without their best receiver (Antonio Brown) and would have won if not for their own mistakes.

Last year, the AFC title game, they were blown out by the Patriots, 36-17.

Still, winning in New England would be a tall order, and if they don’t at least get to the Super Bowl, Tomlin and Haley will be second-guessed the entire offseason for the way they gave away the game and probably home field advantage last Sunday. Haley’s job might even be in jeopardy.

Meanwhile, Tomlin, Haley and Roethlisberger have to spend time figuring out how to handle a similar situation in the future.

They certainly weren’t prepared last Sunday.

One thought on “Still hard to comprehend Steelers’ last-second bungling in Patriots loss”

  1. One of the best articles on the Steelers collapse last week. I’m a die hard Steelers fan (and hate the Patiots), but Haley (and probably Butler) need to go, McDaniels and Patricia would’ve never let a collapse like that happen. Losing the chance for home field advantage to the Pats is unacceptable and much too costly.

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