INDIANAPOLIS — The Pittsburgh Steelers didn’t necessarily come especially close to stemming the tide in a midst of a 30-point Indianapolis Colts run that sank Saturday’s game and most of the Steelers’ playoff hopes.
But when they did get close, late in the game and trailing by two scores, head coach Mike Tomlin made a baffling decision to punt the ball away.
The Steelers were trailing by 11 points with just over three minutes let to play in the third quarter. A long pass from Mitch Trubisky to George Pickens followed by two Najee Harris runs had the Steelers inside the Indianapolis 30-yard-line — and easy bellwether for almost anyone’s field goal range, let alone for one of the best kickers in the NFL in Chris Boswell.
Then, Dan Moore took an offensive holding penalty on a third and four at the 29. The pass from Mitch Trubisky to Connor Heyward had been incomplete, but the Colts chose to accept the penalty to try to push the Steelers out of field goal range.
On third and 14 from the 39, Trubisky heaved up a desperation lob toward Pickens, with the ball sailing over the receiver’s head and well out of bounds.
Boswell trotted onto the field in anticipation of a 57-yard field goal attempt. Then, he retreated to the sideline. Tomlin had decided to punt.
The decision was incorrect, according to analytical data, which say Tomlin should have kicked. Boswell has made a kick of 57 yards this season already and missed just one kick of longer the 50 yards this season — it was from 61 yards, outdoors at Acrisure Stadium.
PIT decided to punt to IND from the IND 39 on 4th & 14 with 3:21 remaining in the 3rd while losing 13 to 24.
With a Surrender Index of 15.51, this punt ranks at the 98th percentile of cowardly punts of the 2023 season, and the 95th percentile of all punts since 1999.
— Surrender Index 90 (@surrender_idx90) December 16, 2023
So why did Boswell kick that one and not this one, inside at Lucas Oil Stadium? Tomlin gave a bizarre and somewhat nonsensical answer.
“Not a lot had gone in our way to that juncture that made me feel good about banging a 57-yard field goal, particularly on the down before,” Tomlin said. “I thought we might take a shot or check it down, and we end up throwing the ball out of bounds. So, I didn’t like that field positioning.”
Mike Tomlin on his decision to punt instead of try a 57-yard field goal down 11 in the fourth quarter.
Let me know if any of you can make more sense of this than I can. pic.twitter.com/PtebTtrYr1
— Alan Saunders (@ASaunders_PGH) December 17, 2023
Boswell had missed an extra point earlier in the game, so perhaps that was playing into his decision-making process. If there was consternation about attempting the 57-yarder, the Steelers absolutely should’ve tried a higher-percentage call on third down to try to get some yards instead of worrying about all 14 of them. Maybe those were his instructions and they weren’t carried out.
But of all the mistakes made by Steelers on Saturday, Tomlin’s might’ve been the most baffling.
“None of us were good enough, starting first and foremost with myself,” Tomlin said.