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Steelers-Bills followup...

November 29, 2010 - Ray Eckenrode

Gailey put on clinic on game mismanagement

History and popular opinion will show that Stevie Johnson's drop of a sure touchdown pass cost the Buffalo Bills the game Sunday against the Pittsburgh Steelers, but a closer examination shows that two horrid game management decision by Bills' Head Coach Chan Gailey were more costly, if less spectacularly bad.

The first gaffe by Gailey came at the end of the first half, With 1:42 on the clock, the Steelers had a 1st-and-10 at the Bills 19 and ran Mewelde Moore for a 1-yard gain. Chris Kemoeatu was called for holding on the play (imagine that!) and Buffalo DECLINED the penalty.

The key here is that the Bills still had all three of their timeouts remaining. Had the Bills already used a timeout, the decision to take the minimal-gain play and leave the Steelers only two more potential downs could have been justified, but with all three timeouts left, it made absolutely no sense. If you take the penalty, the clock stops and Pittsburgh faces 1st-and-19 from the 9 and is much more likely to be conservative and hope to run out the clock before halftime.

You then can decide if you want to let them do that or use your timeouts and try to force a punt. Instead, facing a 2nd-and-9, the Steelers went into their hurry up offense, Ben Roethlisberger completed six straight passes and Shaun Suisham kicked a 48-yard field goal to extend Pittsburgh's lead to 13-0. Had Gailey accepted the penalty, there's an excellent chance the game would have been 10-0 at the half and a possibility it could have been 10-3.

The second mistake by Gailey was much more cut and dried, a cardinal mistake that a veteran football mind should never make.

Although Troy Polamalu's athletic interception at the goal line with 2:51 left was certainly deflating for the Bills, it was in no way a death knell for the team. Polamalu's return to the 6 left the Steelers deep in Bills territory (only three yards shy of where they'd have been in Gailey had taken the penalty in the first half), again Buffalo had all three timeouts remaining and this time the Steelers were heading into the wind.

Rashard Mendhall runs of 3 and 5 yards set up a critical 3rd-and-2 and then Gailey did it. HE CALLED TIMEOUT BEFORE THE TWO-MINUTE WARNING WHEN HIS OFFENSIVE OPPONENT WAS FACING THIRD DOWN. In our book, that should be a fireable offense. What Gailey did was save a measly three seconds while giving Pittsburgh a run-pass option (and access to their entire playbook) with no repercussions. Think about it. If anyone should have called timeout with 2:03 left it should have been Mike Tomlin.

Had Gailey allowed the clock to run down to 2:00, the Steelers would have still faced 3rd-and-2, but now a pass was a very risky proposition. An incomplete throw would be like giving the Bills a fourth timeout and you'd be punting to them from your own 14 into the wind with 1:55 remaining. Facing that risk, a run is much more likely, allowing the Bills to load up for it and have a good chance of stopping it.

Instead, the Steelers used their "free" play to hit a risk-free pass to Mewelde Moore for the first down. Although they couldn't grind out another first down to clinch the game, they were able to run another 1:15 off the clock and punt to the Bills from their own 21 instead of 14 and with :46 left instead of 1:55 left. The Bills executed a quick field goal drive to tie the game and send it into overtime, but had their coach used his timeouts correctly Buffalo would have had a much better opportunity to win the game outright in regulation.

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