Tim Benz: Mike Tomlin’s fake-punt call was terrible. Period. |
Breakfast With Benz

Tim Benz: Mike Tomlin’s fake-punt call was terrible. Period.

Tim Benz
Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin challenges side judge Dyrol Prioleau (109) in the first half of an NFL football game in New Orleans, Sunday, Dec. 23, 2018. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)

This is not what the Festivus season is supposed to be about!

Well, aside from the “Airing of Grievances,” of course. So, let’s dive right in. Because after the way that Steelers loss in New Orleans went down …

… I’ve got a lot of problems with you people!

I hated the officiating. The willy-nilly flagging of pass-interference penalties was a dreadful look for the NFL.

The fumbles by Stevan Ridley and JuJu Smith-Schuster were costly. Having Ridley in the game was even worse. The defense at the end of the second quarter was a train wreck. The Steelers should have challenged Michael Thomas’ incompletion after the hit from Sean Davis.

But there is only one grievance on which I want to focus this week.


Way too many people are working way too hard to defend this decision by Mike Tomlin. It was stupid. Period.

Winning 28-24 with four minutes, 11 seconds left, the Steelers ran a fake punt from their own 42 when facing a 4th and 5.

No. It’s not “one of these situations where if it works out, he’s genius.”

It’s “one of these situations where if it works out, it worked out despite how dumb of a decision it was.”

If you drink too much eggnog at your holiday party, and you drive home drunk, it’s not a good decision just because you save $20 on an Uber.

The result doesn’t justify the decision. Especially because the logic was incredibly flawed.

Here was Tomlin’s explanation.

“I just wanted to be aggressive,” Tomlin said. “I liked the play. The concept. I thought we had a chance to get it. But I thought where the game was — the time left — that if we didn’t stop them, we’d have an opportunity to have the ball last. And we did.”

Gosh. Sure sounds like “Mr. I Don’t Live in My Fears” was afraid his defense would blow a lead if they punted the ball back, huh?

I don’t want to steal a Tomlin-ism here and “paint with a broad brush,” but what a contradiction in philosophy.

Here’s a coach who puffs his chest out any chance he gets about the faith he has in his players to do their jobs. Yet he takes an unnecessary risk to get a first down because he’d rather forfeit a score with time left on the clock and — theoretically — get the ball back faster, as opposed to giving his defense more yardage with which to work?

Also remember, another classic Tomlin-ism is “defend every blade of grass.” OK. How about giving your defense more blades to defend then, Mike? For as shoddy as this defense has been this year, it allowed one touchdown to Tom Brady over 60 minutes. And Drew Brees had gotten in the end zone just once in the second half.

It smells like Tomlin was being brash to mask his lack of confidence in his defense.

Stopping Brees from going 75 yards for a touchdown seems to be an easier path than:

• Forfeiting a touchdown, which Tomlin is assuming by that mindset

• Getting the ball back with 90 seconds left

• Driving to at least the opposing 32-yard line

• Relying on the perpetually shaky Chris Boswell to make a kick

Even in that “best-case,” self-defeating scenario, the Steelers would only be in a position to tie the game and force overtime to take their chances again.

Furthermore, if you are so scared of your own defense stopping Brees, based on how Ben Roethlisberger was connecting with JuJu Smith-Schuster and Antonio Brown, why not just keep the offense on the field?


Oh well. Maybe the Browns’ Gregg Williams has a few totally awesome tricks up his sleeve to upset the Ravens. I have about as much faith in that happening as I did in that fake punt working out.

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