Sometimes the emotion and frustration of the game can cause you to make a mistake. It is the nature of the business because there are only 16 games (soon to be 18) and each one is critical, but the ones in your own division have even greater importance.
On Monday night, the Packers dominated the Bears and clearly were the better team. But Green Bay had 18 penalties, allowed a punt to be returned for a touchdown, and then made a huge blunder on a coach's challenge right before the two-minute warning. Yes, challenges are part of game management, because they are directly linked to timeouts and can cause the loss of time on the clock, putting your team in a bad situation. And that is precisely what happened to Packers coach Mike McCarthy.
In spite of all the penalties, the Packers were in position to win late in the game. With the game tied 17-17 and 3:52 left on the clock, they started to drive the ball down the field, having all three timeouts. On second-and-20 from their own 38, Aaron Rodgers completed a pass to wide receiver James Jones, who made a few defenders miss. But in his effort to gain extra yardage, Jones failed to put the ball in his right hand and fumbled after being tackled by Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs. The ball dangled dangerously on the sideline without going out of bounds and was recovered by Bears cornerback Tim Jennings.
McCarthy threw his challenge flag, not questioning the validity of the fumble, but if Jennings' foot had touched out of bounds before he recovered the ball. McCarthy was directly in front of the play and so were the officials who made the call, so he had the same view. His coaches in the box, looking at the replay, also had time to advise him on whether or not to challenge the play and risk losing a timeout.
Boomer Esiason, announcing the game nationally for the Westwood One radio network and seated in the booth next to the Green Bay coaches box, said later that the Packers coaches had advised McCarthy to challenge the call. But McCarthy, in this instance, has to trust his eyes and not be talked into a challenge. Unless the evidence is clear-cut, a rational decision must be made, not an emotional one.
The high risk of losing this particular challenge has to play into McCarthy's thought process before he throws the red flag. He must not risk losing his timeout, not because he will need it to score, but rather to ensure there would be enough time in the game for him to mount a comeback. With 2:18 on the clock and with three timeouts (as well as the two-minute warning stoppage), there was enough time for the Packers to get the ball back, score and win the game or tie it, depending on what the Bears did on their possession. But with only two timeouts, McCarthy's options would be limited or, as it turned out, eliminated.
"I thought it was too important of a play in the game to not challenge, and I was right in front of the call," McCarthy said after the game.
Yes, it was an important play, but there was more game left to be played, and keeping your team's chances alive is as important as anything. Also, he has to know that once he throws that flag, he has to be one 100 percent certain he wins the challenge.
As we all know by now, McCarthy threw the flag and lost the challenge and the timeout. The Bears proceeded to throw the ball twice, helping the Packers' cause before Jay Cutler connected with tight end Greg Olsen for a huge play and a first down. After the two-minute warning and a few more penalties by the Packers, Chicago had first-and-goal from the 9, with 1:44 left. Matt Forte ran the ball to the 3-yard line, and the Packers, with only one timeout, ccouldn't control the clock.
Had they had the one they lost from the challenge, they would have been able to at least get the ball back with around 40 seconds left and attempt to move the ball down the field for the tying field goal. Instead, the Bears ran the clock down to 8 seconds before kicking the winning field goal, leaving Green Bay smarting over a tough divisional loss.
Jets give Dolphins extra TO
The Dolphins and Jets were in a tight game on Sunday that went down to the wire, but it probably could have been avoided. The Jets had the ball on first-and-5 from the Miami 5-yard line with 2:24 left and the Dolphins holding all three of their timeouts. The Jets, leading 24-23, needed to score a touchdown in order to force Miami to score one of their own, as well as convert the two-point play.
On first down, the Jets ran LaDainian Tomlinson up the middle for a 2-yard gain, which forced the Dolphins to stop the clock and use their first timeout. On second-and-3 from the 3, the Jets called a pass play, but Mark Sanchez's throw fell incomplete, thus saving Miami from having to call a second timeout. Huge mistake by the Jets, but an understandable one based on the circumstance and past events. Just a week earlier, they had seen the Dolphins stuff Adrian Peterson at the goal line and probably thought they needed to throw in order to score against a tough Miami defense.
You can't argue with that logic, but perhaps they should have waited until third down before attempting a pass. Taking the second timeout away from Miami in that situation is critical before trying to score one more time. Remember, a field goal would make it a four-point game. And against the Jets' defense, it would be difficult for the Dolphins to drive down the field and score with no timeouts.
The Jets got a huge break and had a pass interference call against Miami on the third-down pass, which gave them another set of downs and more time to run the clock and take timeouts away from the Dolphins. But as was the case before, the Jets' mission here was to score, forget the timeouts and make it an eight-point game as soon as they could.
The Jets eventually scored to go up eight, giving them a nice cushion. Miami started its two-minute drive with two timeouts. The Dolphins moved the ball down the field, preserving their timeouts to be able to throw the ball in the end zone late in the game.
The Jets held on barely, but these events might lead them to rethink their strategy on calling pass plays on second down.