The Pittsburgh Steelers were making a comeback against the Cleveland Browns that looked like it could go down in NFL history with Frank Reich rallying the Buffalo Bills against the Houston Oilers, Andrew Luck dragging the Indianapolis Colts back over the Kansas City Chiefs and of course, the 28-3 Super Bowl.
Then Mike Tomlin punted.
In the first AFC wild-card game on Sunday, Tennessee Titans coach Mike Vrabel made a fourth-quarter decision to punt in Baltimore Ravens territory that made no sense and might have cost his team a win. Tomlin repeated history.
With the Steelers trailing 35-23 with all the momentum, after falling behind 35-7, they faced a fourth-and-1 at their 46-yard line. It seemed clear that Pittsburgh would go for it. Until it didn’t. Everyone watching, including NBC’s Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth in the broadcast booth, was stunned when the Steelers punted.
---> CLE (35) @ PIT (23) <---
PIT has 4th & 1 at the PIT 46
Recommendation (VERY STRONG): 👉 Go for it (+7.1 WP)
Actual play: 🚨 (Punt formation) PENALTY on PIT, Delay of Game, 5 yards, enforced at PIT 46 - No pic.twitter.com/nSoFurKutk
— 4th down decision bot (@ben_bot_baldwin) January 11, 2021
PIT decided to punt to CLE from the PIT 46* on 4th & 1* with 14:52 remaining in the 4th while losing 23 to 35.
With a Surrender Index of 9.29, this punt ranks at the 94th percentile of cowardly punts of the 2020 season, and the 92nd percentile of all punts since 2009.
— Surrender Index 90 (@surrender_idx90) January 11, 2021
Even worse, the Steelers’ punt went into the end zone for a touchback. The Browns, given some life after the punt, marched downfield for a touchdown and a 42-23 lead. They would eventually win, 48-37.
Tomlin defended the decision to punt after the game, too.
“We had some stops,” Tomlin said, via ESPN’s Brooke Pryor. “[We] want to pin them down, provide short field for offense ... I just wanted to keep momentum going in terms of field positioning.”
Coaches are getting better on going for it instead of automatically punting every fourth down. There is still some progress to be made.
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