Steelers coach Mike Tomlin made an unusual decision on Sunday: When the game went to overtime, Pittsburgh won the coin toss and Tomlin did not choose to receive the kickoff.
Instead, the Steelers chose to have the wind at their backs, meaning they kicked off and gave the Ravens the ball first. The risk, of course, was that the Ravens would march down the field, score a touchdown and win the game without the Steelers ever getting the ball.
The Steelers did lose, but not that way: They forced the Ravens to punt on the opening possession of overtime, but then Pittsburgh lost a fumble and set up Baltimore’s game-winning field goal.
Despite losing the game, Tomlin said afterward that he made the right choice, given that the Steelers were struggling with kickoff returns all game.
“We couldn’t get back to the 15, why would I sign up for that?” Tomlin said. “I put the defense on the field in an effort to fight for field position and put the onus on them to get the stop. When we got the ball, we got it on the 30-something, which is dramatically different than when our kickoff return team took the field all afternoon.”
Pittsburgh did get the ball at the 32-yard line on its overtime possession, and with the wind at their backs, the Steelers didn’t need to go far to get into field goal range. If not for that fumble, Tomlin might have looked smart. But because the Steelers did fumble, and because Ravens kicker Justin Tucker made the game-winning field goal into the wind, Tomlin has taken some criticism this week.
Ravens coach John Harbaugh, however, said he understood exactly what Tomlin was doing.
“Give Tomlin a lot of credit, he knows this place better than anyone,” Harbaugh said. “I think we probably know it the second best because we play here so much. For our kicker to be able to make that kick in the end with the wind blowing says something about him.”
It worked out for Harbaugh and didn’t work out for Tomlin, but that doesn’t necessarily mean Tomlin made the wrong decision.