By Chris Gates
I’m having a hard time understanding a lot of Mike Tomlin’s decisions in the Steelers’ 20-10 loss at New Orleans Sunday night. More specifically, I’m having trouble understanding his use, and sometimes lack thereof, of the challenge flag.
There seemed to be more crucial moments in Sunday’s game for a head coach to step in and make important decisions that went wrong. For instance, would any other coach in the league challenge the non-fumble that Tomlin chose to review in the first quarter? Even more, how many coaches do you know that challenge possible fumbles so early in a game? The answer to both of those questions is few, if any.
After one replay it was clear that New Orleans returner Lance Moore had his forearm and elbow hit the ground, which jarred the ball loose on the kickoff immediately following the Steelers’ second possession. He was clearly touched by at least two players on his way to the ground as well, nullifying any chance that he wasn’t down by contact. It cost the Steelers a timeout and likely was a reason why Tomlin let the one play that should have been challenged go un-reviewed.
By my opinion, the opinion of the NBC broadcast crew and thousands who watched the game, Rashard Mendenhall scored a touchdown on second-and-goal from the 1-yard line. Tomlin was apparently in the minority of that debate. As a coach, you have to throw the challenge flag there. That is, unless you were on the sideline paying attention to something other than the game in front of you and the replays being shown in the building. Given his choice of challenges on the night, I wouldn’t be surprised if that was the case.
In turn, the Steelers were held on third down at the goal line and kicked a field goal. Four points were taken off the board – points that could have totally changed the complexion of the game, considering the Pittsburgh defense held the Saints to just 6 points through three quarters. Few teams can do that defensively. Ever. Tomlin isn’t a coach that uses the challenge flag very often, but that doesn’t excuse his poor judgment. It’s a head coach’s job to be aware of every aspect of play on the field throughout the course of the game. He failed Sunday and we can only wonder how things could have been changed with better judgment.