Mike Tomlin fires back about his most controversial decision against Jaguars


A lot of Pittsburgh fans were screaming at their TVs when Steelers coach Mike Tomlin opted to go for an onside kick late in the AFC divisional playoff game against the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday.

It obviously didn’t work out, as the Jags won 45-42 to advance to the AFC championship game, but Tomlin defended his decision this week.

In case you missed it, Pittsburgh scored with 2:18 left in the game to cut the Jacksonville lead to 42-35. With two timeouts in his pocket and the two-minute warning, Tomlin opted to go for an onside kick.

This low-percentage play is often necessary in the final moments of a game, but with the ability to stop the clock three times, it made little sense for the Steelers in this case.

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On top of that, a Jags recovery would instantly put them very close to field goal range, likely turning a seven-point game into a 10-point game.

And that’s exactly what happened. Jacksonville easily recovered the onside kick at the Pittsburgh 37-yard line. Three plays later, Josh Lambo kicked a 45-yard field goal to put the Jags up 45-35.

The higher percentage play here was using the two-minute warning and two timeouts to get the ball back after a three-and-out. While a three-and-out wasn’t guaranteed, it was far more likely to happen than recovering an onside kick.

As it turned out, the Steelers would have gotten the ball back with 1:45 left after the three plays before Lambo’s field goal.

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Ultimately, they scored on their final possession, which would have tied the game had Pittsburgh elected to do an onside kick.

Now, if the Steelers had kicked off deep with 2:18 left after drawing to within a touchdown, it’s likely that the Jags would not have been as conservative in their play calling, particularly on third down. But certainly the odds of getting a stop there and good field position for the final, game-tying drive would have been much higher.

So what is Tomlin’s defense?

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“I know analytically they probably fall in the lower percentages and things of that nature,” the coach told reporters Tuesday. “If I err, I’m always going to err on the side of taking action in an effort to win. My guys know that about me. I think more importantly than knowing that about me, they expect that from me. I don’t fear failure. I’m going to do what’s required to pursue victory, even if it comes across as unconventional.

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“I’m certainly not going to steer away from decision-making for fear of ridicule. Those guys put a lot on the line when we step into stadiums to play. I, in turn, am responsible to put a lot on the line and embrace doing so.

“So I understand when things don’t work out there’s criticism that’s associated with it. I embrace that. But I go to work with men every day that lay a lot on the line when they step into stadiums as well. I’m just going to provide the same efforts that they provide me.”

It was a disappointing defeat for the favored Steelers, some of whom had talked about their expected rematch with the Patriots in the AFC championship game — despite Jacksonville’s 30-9 thrashing of Pittsburgh in Week 5.

And it’s not just fans that are upset. Reports were circulating Tuesday that some of the team’s limited partners were pressuring team owner Art Rooney II to fire Tomlin over his questionable decision-making.

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Dave is a lifelong sports fan who has been writing for The Wildcard since 2017. He has been a writer for more than 20 years for a variety of publications.
Dave has been writing about sports for The Wildcard since 2017. He's been a reporter and editor for over 20 years, covering everything from sports to financial news. In addition to writing for The Wildcard, Dave has covered mutual funds for Pensions and Investments, meetings and conventions, money market funds, personal finance, associations, and he currently covers financial regulations and the energy sector for Macallan Communications. He has won awards for both news and sports reporting.
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