Colts coach Jeff Saturday initially expressed no regret for waiting too long to use timeouts at the end of Monday night’s game. More recently, he admitted that he should have used a timeout — specifically when things were in “disarray” after quarterback Matt Ryan‘s scramble on second and 17 with the clock tick-tick-ticking toward 34 seconds and the Colts still in possession of all three timeouts.
The truth, as Chris Simms pointed out on Tuesday’s PFT Live, is that it’s impossible to know whether the clock management was or wasn’t flawed, because the Colts didn’t run out of time. They ran out of downs.
If they’d converted on fourth and three, they would have had two timeouts left. They had the entire field open to them on that play, given that they knew they’d be able to stop the clock immediately, by taking a second timeout. They still would have had one timeout remaining, and they would have been at the Pittsburgh 23 or closer to the end zone.
If the fourth-down conversion had resulted in the ball going out of bounds, they would have had two timeouts, and they would have been at the 23 or closer.
It may have worked. For at least one play and maybe two, they would have had the entire field available to them. A pass down the middle could have taken the ball inside the 10. Call a timeout, take multiple shots at the end zone, and then try the potential game-tying extra point or, as the Jaguars and Chargers did on Sunday, the game-winning two-point conversion.
That said, the disarray on the third-down play didn’t help matters, at all. In Indy’s haze of haste, Steelers linebacker Alex Highsmith figured out what was coming.
“They kind of hurried up to the ball and, you know, watch[ing] the film and knowing the position the tight end was in, I could kind of tell that he was going to try to cut me off and it was gonna be a run play,” Highsmith told reporters after the game.
So if the timeout had been taken after the scramble and before third down, the Colts have had two more timeouts — and two more tries to keep the drive going. It may have made a difference. It may have ended the same way, with the Colts not getting another first down.
The point is this. They ran out of downs, not time. While the clock management left much to be desired, the selection and execution of plays and third and fourth down was the more direct reason for the failure to score.