The Pittsburgh Steelers pulled within seven points with 2:18 remaining in the fourth quarter of Sunday's Divisional Round tilt versus the Jacksonville Jaguars. With two timeouts and the two-minute warning, common practice suggested the Steelers kick deep. If they got a stop, it would put them in decent field position with plenty of time to try and tie the score.
Instead, coach Mike Tomlin elected to try an onside kick, which was woefully botched by kicker Chris Boswell. The Jags got the ball already in field-goal range and after three plays that netted nine yards, Josh Lambo nailed a 45-yard field goal to put Jacksonville up 10 points.
Pittsburgh did score on their final dive to pull within three points with virtually no time left, losing 45-42. Had the Steelers kicked deep, perhaps overtime could have saved the home team.
On Tuesday, Tomlin said he understands why it's being questioned but defended his decision to try the onside kick.
"I know analytically they probably fall in the lower percentages and things of that nature," Tomlin said, via ESPN's Jeremy Fowler. "If I err, I'm always going to err on the side of action in an effort to win. My guys know that about me. I think more importantly them knowing that about me, they expect that from me. I don't fear failure. I'm going to do what's required to pursue victory, even if it comes across as unconventional. I'm certainly not going to steer away from decision-making for fear of ridicule. Those guys put a lot on the line when we step into stadiums to play. I, in turn, am responsible for putting a lot on the line and embrace doing so. I understand when things don't work out and the criticism that's associated with it. I embrace that. But I go to work with men every day that lay a lot on the line when they step in stadiums as well. I'm just going to provide the same efforts that they provide me."
The Steelers' defense couldn't stop the Jags most of the game, playing into Tomlin's decision. Still, Blake Bortles was quarterbacking Jacksonville, not Tom Brady. If his defense couldn't get a stop in that situation -- a much higher percentage than recovering the onside kick -- Pittsburgh didn't deserve to win. Did Tomlin not see how the Jags handled a late-game situation with Bortles in Arizona earlier in the year, not trusting the quarterback to win the game?
Criticizing a decision in hindsight comes easy when it fails. The key is analyzing the process over results. That is why coaches are asked about important choices after games, to see if they can provide insight as to why they took one path over another. Tomlin defending his decision to onside kick, in this case, leaves a lot of reasoning to be desired for Steelers fans.