The Pittsburgh Steelers couldn’t have asked for a much better start to today’s game. They scored touchdowns on long possessions on their first two drives, in between which the defense forced a three and out. They added a field goal and another touchdown on their next two possessions in building a 24-7 lead just before halftime.
After a botched punt gave them the ball at the Tennessee Titans’ 32-yard line with 14 seconds to play in the first half, the Steelers and head coach Mike Tomlin suddenly had a decision on their hands. They had numerous options about how to approach the situation. Then Eric Ebron was flagged for a false start, and that suddenly changed things.
Head coach Mike Tomlin admitted as much after the game when he was asked specifically about what went into the decision of looking for the end zone in that situation, which led to an interception and took the possibility of even a long field goal attempt, of course, off the table.
“Prior to the false start, [all the options] were on the table”, he said. “Once we lost the five yards on the false start, then our mindset changed”. And they decided to be aggressive and go for it all, which led to the first of Ben Roethlisberger’s three interceptions, two of which came with him looking to extend the ball into the end zone.
Although that play ended with time expiring in the half so that the Titans would have no opportunity to take advantage of it, they seemed to largely carry the momentum of that ‘stop’ into the second half, as they outscored the Steelers 17-3 in the final two frames, drawing to within a missed 45-yard field goal in the waning seconds from forcing overtime.
It’s hard to pinpoint what caused the air to go out of the offense. Tennessee’s defense certainly played better. They were making the stops on third down in particularly that they were not in the field half, including multiple early 3rd-and-long conversions.
Would things have been different if the Steelers got more points on the board in that situation—whether managing to hit the touchdown or winding up with at least a long field goal attempt? Well, it would at the very least have likely avoided the end-of-game situation with the Titans needing a touchdown rather than a field goal.
The false start put the Steelers at the 37-yard line, so that would have resulted in a 54-yard field goal attempt. Chris Boswell’s career long is 53 yards, and from memory, I believe he has only attempted a couple of kicks longer than that.
Should they have taken the chance? It’s a lot easier to say yes in hindsight, but with the way the offense was moving, and finding success on even lengthy possession downs, it’s hard to say that, in the moment, it wasn’t worth that risk, already up by 17 points.