With the Lions leading 34-28 and 1:15 remaining in Sunday’s game, the Colts had the ball deep in Detroit territory and should have wanted to run as much time off the clock as possible, hoping to score a touchdown and extra point to win the game, and not leave the Lions any time to mount a game-winning drive of their own.
The Lions, conversely, should have wanted to stop the clock to give themselves as much time as possible for a last-minute score.
So it was odd, to say the least, that it was Colts coach Chuck Pagano, not Lions coach Jim Caldwell, who called a timeout with 1:15 remaining. Pagano said after the game that he called timeout to get the right personnel on the field.
“We wanted to get guys in the huddle. Get a play called,” Pagano said. “Yeah, we can look back and say, ‘you know what, it would have been nice to bleed a lot more time off the clock.’ So looking back on it, could we have burned more time off the clock? Yeah. But we had some personnel issues, we wanted to get a different personnel group in there, whatever it was, and I decided to call a timeout there. Regroup and get back to the line of scrimmage. We felt like it was more important at that time to get back, get gathered, get a call in, and get settled, because we still needed a touchdown. And [we] felt like, shoot, they’re going to have to go whatever they have to go to get in field goal range and we could close it out.”
The personnel explanation doesn’t explain, however, why Pagano didn’t wait until there was one second left on the play clock to call the timeout. Pagano still could have bled time off, but he didn’t.
But that raises another question: Why didn’t Caldwell call timeout so that if the Colts did score, the Lions would have as much time as possible for their offense to execute a game-winning drive?
“Because we knew it was probably going to be somewhere between 25 and 30 seconds when we got it back,” Caldwell said. “So if we had all our timeouts we could move it down the field. We practice that situation all the time with no timeouts and our guys are pretty comfortable with that situation. So with three we felt pretty good about it.”
But teams are better off using their timeouts on defense because on offense, you can stop the clock without timeouts by running out of bounds or spiking the ball. Caldwell should have been using his timeouts on defense.
Neither coach used his timeouts properly, but the two coaches basically canceled themselves out, and the Lions had just enough time to kick the game-winning field goal at the end.