Steelers admission of scrambled thinking confirms what led to late-game mess


Say this for the Steelers: It sounds like they're doing their best to be honest. But in the process they're only confirming just how ill-prepared they were in the final moments of Sunday's loss to the Patriots. 

Mike Tomlin met with reporters on Tuesday. Ben Roethlisberger called into his Pittsburgh radio show just before. Both spoke about what transpired in the final seconds of the game, and given their explanations it's no surprise they looked as discombobulated as they did on the field. 

Indecision reigned, and the result was chaos.

Let's start with the Steelers timeout call following JuJu Smith-Schuster's 69-yard catch-and-run. It looked like Roethlisberger was calling a timeout as soon as the play finished, but he claims he was asking his coaches on the sidelines if they wanted one called. 

"It's one of those situations," Roethlisberger said, "where you've got one timeout. You went 60-something -- I don't even know how far he went, but that's a long way for guys to run. I'm looking to the sidelines to coach, like, 'Are we taking this timeout? What are we doing?' Which is very typical. Obviously the only person that can communicate to me is [offensive coordinator] Todd [Haley]. He's asking Coach Tomlin and everybody. 

"I'm putting my hands up, like, 'Are we taking this timeout? Are we taking this timeout?' And Tony, the head official, thought I was calling timeout so he blew it. I'm not sure if Mike wanted to use it or not. I know that he was talking about trying to run up and spike it. But I guess Tony thought I was calling timeout . . . Unfortunately or fortunately, however you want to say it, we used our last timeout. But it gave us time to regroup, and it gave JuJu time to catch his breath, I'll tell you that."

Tomlin did not, in fact, want his team to call a timeout in that spot -- even though it appeared as though Roethlisberger and his linemen hadn't yet made it to midfield by the time Smith-Schuster was tackled at the Patriots 10-yard line. 

Then there was what happened after Roethlisberger hit Jesse James for what they thought was the go-ahead score. 

"I was on the sideline, on a knee," Roethlisberger said. "Getting a breath. Taking it all in. Praying. I had turned around and asked one of the TV people if it was good, and they nodded that yes it was good. I just was really ecstatic about that and happy. Obviously they don't know. They're not the officials. They're [looking] at the TV copy. They felt like it was good. 

"My helmet was on the whole time. Then, out of nowhere, coach Todd is like, 'Hey, Ben, this might not be good, let's get a play ready to go' . . . I started walking back down to where they were congregating, and that's when the official came out and said it wasn't good, and coach was communicating with me what play he wanted to run."

Roethlisberger said there was no second play drawn up on the sideline for that situation. They came to the line with what they had, and they were going to run it. The result was a short completion to Darius Heyward-Bey, who was tackled in bounds by Malcolm Butler. 

The clock ran.

"Obviously, I wish I would have maybe mentioned that to coach," Roethlisberger said when asked about the possibility of coming to the line with two plays ready. "Nothing got drawn up. Hindsight on a lot of situations at the end I wish we would've . . . I wish we would've called two plays. I wish we would've had two ready to go just in case. 

"I did communicate with the guys, 'Listen, we have no timeouts. If it's caught in bounds, we need to get up, and get ready to clock it. We gotta go. No penalties.' All these things. I tried to communicate that in the huddle with everybody. And that's kinda what happened. The ball was in bounds. It almost got out. So guys lined up for the clock like we'd talked about."

Then more confusion.  

"After that play," Roethlisberger said, "after I see the [official] signal in bounds, I'm yelling 'Clock! Clock! The second the offense hears 'Clock! Clock!' the only rule is the two outside receivers are on the ball, everybody else is off the ball . . . They're expecting me to spike the ball right away so there's no protection, no play, no nothing. 

"I was yelling 'Clock! Clock! and guys were getting set. Then it comes through my headset, 'Ben, don't clock it. Run a play. Run a play.' Well, at that time, guys are all over the place, no one's lined up in their proper spot. In order for me to get guys lined up to call a play, you're talking 15-20 seconds potentially. Then there's lots of what-if factors. At that moment, the only thing I can do is give a receiver a quick hand signal to run a quick route and try and hold the ball long enough -- because, like I said, the line is not blocking in protection. They're basically lining up. 

"In that moment in my head I'm thinking, 'Do I spike it? Do I not? I went with . . . I probably wish I went with my gut obviously now in hindsight. I should've listened to that instead of listening to running a play. I tried to make a play to Eli [Rogers]. I don't regret it. I just wish I made a better throw. I'll take the blame for the interception at the end of the game. My thought was clock it and then we either kick a field goal to tie, or run our best fourth-down play to win it."

Tomlin explained Tuesday that Roethlisberger could've spiked it if he wanted. 

The question then is, what next? Go for the win on fourth down? Or kick the field goal for overtime? 

"I would've loved it," Roethlisberger said when asked about the possibility of going for it on fourth down. "I think Coach Tomlin is almost crazy enough to go for it and win it. I don't know . . . But I know that was my thought in clocking it was giving ourselves at least the time to consider those options."

Turns out maybe Tomlin isn't as nuts as Roethlisberger thought. 

Crazy or not, the fact that the Steelers had very little ready to go following the "survive the ground" ruling, the fact that no one knew how to proceed following the Heyward-Bey catch, the fact that there was no agreed-upon fourth-down plan in mind and that they still don't know what they would've done had it come to that, speaks volumes of their mental state in those moments. Scrambled.

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