In the southwest end zone at Lucas Oil Stadium, a football stuck in the hands of rookie tight end Jelani Woods, a touchdown that supplied the Indianapolis Colts a three-point lead.
Some 50 yards away, as Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes glanced at the clock from the visiting sideline, the news grew worse.
Twenty-four seconds. That’s it. All he had.
It was hardly enough time to change the near-inevitable outcome.
That chance came earlier.
How would you feel if, albeit on a day in which the offense stumbled, Mahomes had taken over possession with, say, 60 seconds remaining instead of just 24, needing a field goal to tie or a touchdown to win? A couple of timeouts to work with, too.
Pretty good, right?
Well, the Chiefs had that opportunity. They passed on it. And it’s worth mentioning, worth revisiting here, because for all of the conversation after that unlikely loss in Indianapolis — the Chris Jones mysterious penalty, the special teams’ inability to run a snap absent a mistake, the offensive struggles — this is the one that operates outside the gray area. It should be black and white, except that the Chiefs glossed over a simple move.
When? Here: Colts quarterback Matt Ryan hit receiver Alec Pierce for a 14-yard gain that put the ball just 12 yards shy of the end zone. When Pierce was tackled, barely still in bounds, the clock showed 1:09. Plenty of time for the Colts to reach the end zone. So much, in fact, that they decided to burn as much of it as they could.
And the Chiefs just ... let them. They should’ve countered with a timeout. Immediately.
Instead, they allowed the Colts to exhaust 36 seconds off the clock. Here’s a hint: When your opponent wants to waste time and you have an opportunity to stop them from doing it, it’s usually wise to consider that option the best one available.
The Chiefs had three timeouts. They finished the game with two. Probably would have traded one of the two for those 36 seconds, don’t you think?
There’s a risk-reward to most in-game decisions, but it’s hard to find the risk in calling a timeout there. The Colts trailed by four points and therefore had to score a touchdown to overcome the deficit. Sure, they preferred to burn clock in the meantime, but that merely was a luxury, secondary to the top priority. They had to score a touchdown there and would have been glad to get in the end zone quickly. Which they did. Two plays later. But with only 24 seconds on the clock.
Could’ve been a full minute.
Often, the reason for not calling a timeout is if the clock is a factor in the opposition scoring. Basically, are you helping put them at ease by stopping the clock? The Colts, though, were never in danger of running out of time. They had two timeouts of their own, a full minute with which to work and only 12 yards to travel. They could’ve crawled that distance 10 times over.
The Chiefs were the team in danger of running out of time. And, guess what, they did. Yes, I know Mahomes technically threw an interception to end the game, but it was a pass he forced with the clock showing less than five seconds. An interception and an incompletion had virtually the same effect on the outcome.
The Chiefs moved to the Colts’ 46-yard line in only 10 seconds on that final drive, by the way. Can’t help but wonder what an extra 36 ticks would have done.
In other decisions involving analytics in the past two weeks — namely fourth downs — coach Andy Reid has acknowledged he receives the information in his headset during the game from Mike Frazier, a statistical analysis coordinator. But Reid cites what’s essentially a gut feel as part of his equation. The factors for that in-the-moment sixth sense differ by situation, certainly, but it’s evident they’re playing a large factor. A swaying factor.
In back-to-back weeks, Reid has opted for field goals instead of fourth-down tries that models such as Ben Baldwin’s fourth-down bot say would have given the Chiefs a higher win probability. Reid says he’s aware. Frazier makes him aware in real time. Other factors, though, were more persuasive.
It’s fine to weigh the nuance of a situation in an NFL game. You should.
But these types of decisions are critical enough to decide the outcomes of games. For all of the game-planning and scheming — the aspects of games in which the list of those better than Reid includes one, maybe — it’s tough to swallow when something as simple as a timeout could alter the outcome instead.
Considering there’s mathematical evidence pointing in one direction on many of them, it would be better to have those decisions largely made before the game.
This was one that should have been decided, in pen not pencil, before the Chiefs took the field.
A gut feel has no place in it.