PITTSBURGH — Mike Tomlin finally got a challenge right on Monday night, snapping an 11-challenge losing streak with a pivotal challenge that overturned the spot on what would have been a Miami Dolphins fourth-down conversion.
Sunday against Indianapolis Colts, he started another losing streak.
Tomlin challenged two plays in the Steelers’ 26-24 victory, both of them on the Colts’ final drive and both of them as part of the league’s new rule that allows coaches to challenge for pass interference.
The first was a defensive pass interference call against Steelers cornerback Steve Nelson. Nelson got tangled with Colts receiver Zach Pascal, giving the Colts 35 yards. The second, Tomlin challenged that Pascal pushed off against Nelson for a 19-yard gain.
Neither was overturned.
In many ways, that result is unsurprising. The league has adjusted the standard for what it takes to overturn a pass interference call in-season, making for what Tomlin has called a “moving target.” Right now, that seems overwhelmingly skewed toward sticking with the call on the field.
The Colts were also victimized by the same theory in a call that went against Marvel Tell in the fourth quarter. Tomlin is aware of the current trend, but says his challenges were still worth the risk of losing a timeout.
“I know I’m running on the beach in that regard, but given the circumstances and the gravity of those plays, it was worth the risk,” Tomlin said. “Though the risk, I acknowledge, was extremely high.”
If All Pro kicker Adam Vinatieri had made his 42-yard field goal at the game’s end, the Steelers would have had just 1:11 and one timeout to attempt a game-winning drive. Enough time, but certainly cutting it close.
While the calls on the final drive didn’t go Tomlin’s way, the stands behind the decision made by the NFL competition committee to allow challenges on pass interference, stemming from a blown call in the NFC Championship Game in January. Tomlin is a part of that committee.
“We all agreed that something needed to be done based on what transpired in January football,” he said. “We have all be very transparent about that. That has been written and talked about over and over again. And so, my position doesn’t change based on what happens in the stadiums here moving forward. We made the right decisions, we did the things that we needed to do to preserve the integrity of the game, to safe guard the game in the appropriate ways.
“It didn’t fall in my favor today. Such is life.”