By Nick Shook
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Pittsburgh is going home earlier than most expected, and plenty of Steelers fans will likely spend much of the offseason second guessing the team’s coach.
Trailing 42-35 with 2:18 to play and two timeouts remaining, Mike Tomlin elected to onside kick instead of kicking deep. Pittsburgh never had a chance on the onside attempt, which failed to go the necessary 10 yards before it was recovered by Jacksonville. The Jaguars eventually moved a whole nine yards before kicking a field goal to extend their lead to 10 and essentially ice the Divisional Round victory.
Tomlin explained his decision after the 45-42 loss.
“We wanted to get the ball back,” Tomlin said. “We hadn’t stopped them convincingly enough, in my opinion. It was my decision.”
Tomlin’s right — Pittsburgh hadn’t stopped Jacksonville for much of the game. Before the onside kick, Jacksonville scored touchdowns on consecutive possessions, covering a combined 136 yards in just 6:56. The Jaguars did it with a mix of short runs and long gains via the pass, converting three third downs combined between the two possessions and scoring via a Leonard Fournette run and a play action pass to fullback Tommy Bohanon. The second score was so bewildering, it essentially confirmed Tomlin couldn’t rely on his defense to get a much-needed stop.
Even then, Tomlin’s faith in his defense had to be nonexistent in order to make such a call. Pittsburgh had two timeouts and the two-minute warning, yet decided to risk giving up great field position in an attempt to regain possession.
It backfired when Josh Lambo drilled a 45-yard kick through the uprights, sending Jacksonville to the AFC Championship Game in a stunning upset.