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Published on 11/11/2009 at Wed Nov 11 22:26.
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Mike Tomlin HeadshotA series of events struck me as odd during  Monday night’s game.  An eyebrow raiser, not blatant, but it just didn’t sit right.  Coming back to the event in question, does raise just that, questions.

Lets rewind, the situation I speak of was during Pittsburgh’s last drive with 6:30 left in the 4th quarter.  Yeah, that one.  Where the Bronco defense allowed Rashard Mendenhall and Mewelde Moore to run roughshod over them for 72 yards on the ground eating the clock like a giant gold and black monster.  The Steelers reach 1st and goal at Denver’s 3.  Mendenhall gets the call for a dive play up the middle and is stripped by Mario Haggan on the way down.  The officials say the runner was down.  The play is challenged and upheld.  I thought the ball was coming out before he was down, but it was probably too close to overturn by replay and really could’ve went either way.  Teams regroup and Mendenhall gets the call once again to take it up the middle and is held to a 1 yard gain by Kenny Peterson.

At this point Denver uses its last timeout with 1:27 left in the game.  The Steelers are up by 11 points with no way for Denver to stop the clock after the upcoming play is snapped.  What are your thoughts if you’re head coaching a team in this situation?  Something seem amiss?  What happens next?  I know what happens, you know what happens, we all saw it.  Mike Tomlin’s offense calls a swing pass into the right flat for Hines Ward.  He makes the catch, does a half turn, and pulls one hell of an athletic play to hurdle Champ Bailey diving for the wrapup tackle.  He clears the corner, and does a little jaunt over the goal line.

One has to question whether or not this was a good call.  Was it smart, it hardly seems so.  It would require Denver a touchdown, two point conversion, and a field goal to pull even in the game.  It’s third down, you run a dive play, QB sneak, or even take a knee.  That burns another 40 seconds off the game clock.  If you run the ball, maybe you score, probably not with a stacked goal line defense.  But you would leave the Broncos with roughly 30 seconds and 99 yards of field to get two scores.

Hines Ward celebrates after catching a pass for a touchdown against the Denver Broncos during the fourth quarter of the Steelers' 28-10 victory in an NFL football game Monday, Nov. 9, 2009, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

Hines Ward celebrates after catching a pass for a touchdown against the Denver Broncos during the fourth quarter of the Steelers' 28-10 victory in an NFL football game Monday, Nov. 9, 2009, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

Why did Tomlin call something as risky as a pass into the flat.  Worst case scenario for Pittsburgh?  Bailey sniffs out the play, jumps the flat and takes it for a pick 6 with roughly a minute left.  2 point conversion, try and execute an onside kick, make a 20-30 yard play and kick a field goal to send it in to overtime.  I’m not sure why they took a gamble there.  Is there some kind of vendetta Mike Tomlin has against Denver?  I’m not aware of it and I like to think of myself as a good student when it comes to Bronco history.  This isn’t the BCS, you don’t have to put up ridiculous points to prove your place to the computers.  The more I think about it, this maneuver just came off as a little classless.  Now I like Mike Tomlin, always have since he received the nod to take over for Cowher, but this one still baffles me.  This doesn’t even come close to Bill Belichick running up the score on the Dolphins and the Joe Gibbs Redskins.  Billy got his when the Dolphins unleashed that Wildcat beat down on the Patriots last season.

But it still begs the question as to why?  Review the press conference, the play calling wasn’t even brought up.  Maybe he just wanted to cap off that very strong drive, if so, clever call.  A call that came off as rubbing it in the face of the Broncos organization and fans.

  • kdeazy

    its been a while but points scored comes somewhere into the tiebreaking procedure

  • broncosforums

    Two things.

    First, once the Broncos called the time out to stop the clock, then I don't think it is fair to say that anything Pitt did was unsportsmanlike. If Denver chose not to let the clock run, then how could you expect Pitt to do so.

    Second, I have always found the idea of running up the score in the NFL silly. This isn't high school or pop warner. Among other reasons you might want to put up as many points as possible (team confidence, intimidation of future opponents, etc.), you cannot overlook the fact that a couple of the tiebreakers involve net points. Granted, they are way down the list and rarely come into play, but an NFL coach should be considered negligent in his duties if he DOESN'T score as many points as possible, because running out a clock, rather than throwing that swing pass could mean the difference between making the playoffs or not, or the difference in seeding (homefield advantage).

    This isn't Pop Warner, the losing team is paid BIG BUCKS, it's their job to stop the scores, not expect the winning team to take it easy on them.

  • jvill

    I could be wrong, but wasn't Josh McDaniels the OC of a Patriots team that ran up the score like bastards on teams a few years ago? Karma, baby.

    It strikes me as more unseemly to complain about the score than the act itself. Tomlin is a class act and enormously successful. We lost to a great team.

    Next up, Redskins!

  • Jarrod

    eh, it just doesn't seem like he did it maliciously….a little questionable, but to be honest i never really noticed it until you wrote this…

  • pb76

    You need to think back to what happened to the Steelers in a few games early in the season. They blew HUGE leads in the 4th quarter in 3 games and lost 2 of them. They were up 20-9 in Cincinatti in Q4 and ended up losing 23-20. They also blew a big Q4 lead against chicago and lost that game by 3 points as well. They had a 28 point lead against the Charges, and ALMOST ended up losing that game in the 4th quarter. They took a lot of criticism for not being able to close out the games and it became a big focus. Seriously, even though it should be, 11 points is NOT a big enough lead if some fluke things happen. Especially if you consider they have had several kick-offs/punts returned for touchdowns against them this season. I think he was just trying to make sure another one didn't slip away at the end.

  • anthony33

    OR…maybe Bailey should have made the damn tackle.

  • orangecrush

    Come on Josh. I have agree with the previous comment. This is
    professional football, or more accurately, a business. The goal is to
    win PERIOD! Where you suggest the “sportsmanlike” thing to do on 3rd
    down, is a dive up the middle, is ridiculous. These players and
    coaches make huge money to play the game, and if they can't handle a
    full 60 minutes of football, whether ahead by 30, 11, or 2 points,
    then they need to grow up and realize how the real world operates. Do
    you think when Toyota gets their year-end numbers and sees there is no
    way GM can beat them, they take their foot off the gas. No way! They
    want to bury them. Same mentality you mention the Patriots and
    Steelers employ, and that's why they win championships. I guarantee
    you will not hear Josh McDaniels question Tomlin's play calling,
    because if the tables were turned, he would do the exact samething.
    And that's the kind of coach I want leading the Broncos!

  • T-Money

    You've got to give Hines Ward some credit… that's not all champs fault.

  • Josh Temple

    This is a very good point actually. The games you mention are the makeup for the mindset of the Steelers this season. I couldn't believe how well San Diego held in that game. This is probably the best reasoning behind the play calling I've seen.

  • Josh Temple

    Exactly, this is a business. That's why I bring up the point, why make the risky play call there rather than the safe play that puts Denver out of the game and doesn't allow for a fluke or huge defensive 14 point swing?

  • flbronc

    havent seen the replay and cant… i took it off my dvr…

    is it possible that ben changed the play at the line? i dont see that tomiln called anything maliciously. if he did it to run up the score, which i dont believe, so what?

    we were playing to try to win the game late into their last drive. we had a slim, a very very slim chance to pull it out. it was a two score game in a perfect world. by getting the td, they effectively closed the door on any hope of a comeback. it makes sense to force the lead to more than 16 (2 td's and 2 two-pt).

    i can see this discussion if they are up by 30 inside two minutes and run that play vs. running the ball/clock out, then i can see where sportsmanship may come in. but not when there is a tactical reason to score and put a team away for good. i'd hope that we would do it to ensure that a team cannot come back in the final minutes of a game.

  • orangecrush

    Risky? How is that a risky play call? They are the defending Super Bowl Champions with an All-Pro Quarterback and one of the top receivers in the game, who incidentally had a pretty good game against our all-pro corner. Now turn the tables, and you're right, it is a risky call with our quarterback. The Steelers play to win! Flukes are just that…flukes. If you spend your time worry about flukes, you can be sure, you'll be watching the playoffs from your living room.

  • Josh Temple

    A pass into the flat when you're on the 3 yard line is risky no matter who your quarterback is. I'm simply making the point that it was much more of a gamble to throw the ball rather than run out the clock.

  • Josh Temple

    The highlight is linked in the article. Unfortunately it starts right at the beginning of the play, so it's hard to tell if Ben switches it up at the line. Looking at the formation they had, I would doubt it. It appears to be a planned play.

  • TheTroglodyte

    Had Champ been playing anywhere close enough to be able to make that play, Ben doesn't throw it. Hines also would have knocked Champ's lights out if he did get a jump on the ball. There was a reason that play was called and Ben had the option to run it himself or throw it away. It was not risky at all. Actually giving the ball to one of their RB's considering their fumbling history would have been the risky play.

    As far as running up the score. Pish Posh! This game is about execution 100% of the time. The Steelers executed and we didn't. If we have a problem with it, we should have played better.

  • Kyle

    I actually think Champ half-assed it for much of the second half, that play included. My opinion.

  • Kyle

    The Steelers had also given up back-to-back kickoff returns for touchdowns in their previous games. And we have Eddie Royal. And they were probably – at least a little bit – winded/tired.

    Even so, I wouldn't have been upset if the Steelers were scoring up by 21 instead of just 11. It's the NFL, and our defense gets paid to make the stops.

    Also, Mike Tomlin comes across as one of the classiest coaches in the NFL, and was very complimentary of the Broncos after the game. I wouldn't insinuate he has a vendetta or personal reasons for one second. He wanted to win a football game.

  • Josh Temple

    I tend to agree, Champ did not have a good game at all. I did think he was going to a great form tackle on that play. Ward just showed off how athletic he is.

  • piliauski

    First off,it was a screen pass.It wasn't in the flat.Second,Champ was standing in the endzone almost 10 yrs away from trhe reciever.Hines ward is in the slot.
    I thought the play was awesome and gutsy.
    It also lets the team jusst go out and play.

    I hate when teams think they can just turn it on?
    When you watch the play there really was no risk.
    And isnt there risk on every play.

    The Broncos flat out lost the game and Josh McDaniels was man enough to admit it why dont you do the same.

    Shouldn't the Broncos hae defended the play better?
    What about Champs sorry attempt at a tackle?

    The Steelers line up and play every down.

    Honestly Hines catches the ball on the 5 yard line?And jumps over an all pro
    corner and you are gonna complain about the Coaches call?

    How about Champ making a tackle

    go watch it yourself

  • MrEast

    I definitely see where you're coming from JT. I think the calling might be more out of respect, knowing that Denver is a good team and could come back if given the chance.

  • Kevin Allen

    YES!!! finally I read it on the internet somewhere what I was watching the whole time. I thought maybe I wans't watching the game right or something. CHAMP LOOKED LIKE CRAP AND HOLMES WASN”T EVEN DOING THAT MUCH!
    Man I searched for days looking to see why Champ looked old, slow, and just bad. But I haven't been able to find anything. At this point I'm chalking it up to a bad game, but i'll be watching over the next few weeks. The other thing I saw was B-Dawk EXTREMELY Pissed off! I don't know if it was just the lack of Defense or a particular person, but he was freaking out MAD

  • Josh Temple

    Football Glossary: The Flat

    Definition: The area of the field between the hash marks and the sideline near the line of scrimmage.
    Running backs make a lot of their receptions in the flat on screen plays and swing passes.

    I'm not saying the call wasn't great or gutsy. From an offensive scheming stand point it was a brilliant call. But from a head coaching decision in that situation, I don't think it was the best move. Where Bailey lines up when the play starts does not determine the play call ahead of time. Maybe there was an audible at the line? The video doesn't seem to support that theory though.

  • Mike

    I have another interesting tidbit from the game. It has to do with a block in the back call that happend on the interception in the bronco endzone by (I think) Andre Hall. The refs called a block in the back on #68 against us. The announcers even said that there was no #68 on the broncos. I replayed the play 5 times. There was definetely a block in the back, and it was by #68 alright. But he was wearing a Pitsburgh uniform!! They actually penalized the broncos half the distance for a block in the back that was commited by a Steeler. I also looked at the broncos on the field. No one was even in postion to block a Steeler in the back. Did anyone else see/notice that or am i all wet>>>

  • Josh Temple

    Not only that, but the refs botched the explanation on that play completely.

  • Mike

    Thanks Josh, glad someone else noticed, (I have never seen a mistake so blatent like that happen and not get corrected before it became official) i thought we kept getting the wrong end of a lot of calls, and I was waiting for the perverbial makeup call but that never materialized. I also think the first challange that McDanials used on the non catch by Gaffney was good. It looked clear that he had possession of the ball turned, made a football move and then the ball got knocked out. That one play was at a critical time in the game and could of made a difference…Oh well, spilt milk!!

  • kishzilla

    Well, his kids are reported missing. I dunno, if I didn't know where my kids were I don't know if I would be 100% focused either.

  • Josh Temple

    I didn't agree with the Gaffney call either, but chalk that up to my hatred of what the NFL deems a catch these days. I knew they would rule that incomplete. I think they split hairs when coming up with what I call the “Rams justification rule”. It used to be a catch was a catch. Now you have to wrap it up, not let the ball move at all in your arms (even for readjustment), and if it comes out when you hit the ground it's still “not maintaining possession”. Next they're going to require at least a four finger minimum wrapped over the laces for it to be possession.

  • kishzilla

    I hate to say this, but this article sounds like sour grapes to me. Im not going to hold that play against anybody. We played like crap in that game and we got what was coming to us. It's not Tomlin's fault we couldn't stop them in the 4th, it's ours.

  • klund

    Play the game to the end. I would hope that if it was the Broncos in the same situation we would go after the jugular until the last second ticked off the clock. Play to win, always, every second of the game.

  • Jay

    How about the Broncos stop them? If you dont like to be run up on then stop them

  • mopkins

    Well first of all Tomlin doesn't call offensive plays. While I realize it was almost certainly called during the timeout and Tomlin could've stepped up and said “no” to the play being called by the O-Coord, he let Bruce call what he wanted to. Its hardly a fault of Tomlin's to allow his O-coord to call another play like he did all second half to put the game away.

    On top of that Mendenhall is rather fumble prone as you saw 2 plays before that. A quick screen out to Hines is probably just as safe. If he gets tackled the clock still runs….

  • John

    Might have been a bad call by Tomlin in terms of not risking his players, but to even ask the question is the hallmark of a loser. I say that as a diehard Broncos fan.

  • herc_rock

    Jesus. Why is no one talking about this?

    I had no idea.

  • Josh Temple

    You're not the only one Herc. We scour the internet for link every day and I haven't seen this story. They were talking about the foreclosure on Lewis and Floorwax the other morning, but didn't say the kids were missing. She sounds like a nut job that's been fleecing Champ on that house for a long time.

  • kishzilla

    Because they're too busy ripping on Champ for his performance. I'm surprised he's even playing to be honest. On the Broncos Country message boards there are a few threads but that's about it. I just feel bad for the guy, I mean how CAN you keep focused when something like that is going on in your life. Yet another example of favoritism of women in divorce that turns out horribly horribly wrong. If this woman had never been handed that house free and clear by the courts, this would have never happened. Now the kids have to suffer as well as Champ. I hope everyone keeps this amazing athlete and person in their prayers until the situation is resolved.

  • kishzilla
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  • Brian

    OMG, if this isn't being a sore loser and a crybaby if I ever heard one.

  • Brian

    OMG, if this isn't being a sore loser and a crybaby if I ever heard one.