The Time Out

This is NOT my game summary.  I’ll write that tomorrow.

I want to take a moment to discuss the controversial decision by Jim Caldwell to call timeout during the Jacksonville drive that resulted in a 59 yard field goal to win the game.

First, let me say that this is not a pure defense of the decision because it’s not something I would have done.  Secondly, I’m discussing it separately from the rest of the game because I don’t think it is the reason Indy lost.  I don’t want a serious discussion of the game to be overwhelmed by this point.

The Jags opened their final drive apparently content to play for overtime.  As events would later show, this was a colossally stupid decision (one of many) by Jack Del Rio.  After an 8 yard gain on first down, Jim Caldwell called timeout with :36 left.  Indy had two timeouts.  At this point, the Jags elected to try and play offense.  A second down pass was incomplete.  Then on 3rd and 2, Garrard hit a 6 yard pass followed by a 22 yard pass to put the Jags in field goal range.

Many fans are irate about the decision, because the Jags seemingly were content to put the Colts into overtime.

It is my position that the move is quite defensible, and not responsible for the Indy defeat.

Personally, I would not have called the timeout after a gain of 8 on first down.  Had the Jags been held to a shorter gain, I would have been quick to call timeout.  However, I consider this point academic, because if you had told me that Jacksonville would face a 3rd and 2 with :33 left, I would have been happy with the outcome.  There seem to be three primary objections to the time out:

1.  If you trust your defense to stop them on 2nd and 2, you should trust the defense to stop the Jags in overtime as well.

2.  After the touchdown, Indy was was hoping for overtime.  If the other team is willing to give you the outcome you want you should take it.

3. Even if you got two stops, the odds of Indy responding with a score were slight.

The first point is certainly logically consistent.  However, I think Caldwell actively wanted Garrard to start throwing the ball.  He was daring the Jags to take a shot.  Obviously, that backfired, but had Kelvin Hayden simply caught the interception that hit him in the hands, it would have been a good call.  Caldwell bet that Garrard would screw up.  He did.  The Colts merely failed to capitalize on the mistake.

Playing for overtime is dicey.  In overtime, the Jags would surely run if they got the toss, but in the situation Caldwell wanted they were throwing.

Finally, there’s the issue of what Indy could do if they had gotten the stop.  Assuming that the 3rd down pass had been incomplete, there would have been roughly :30 left.  If the Jags then had an average punt (39 yards on the day), it would have been Indy ball at their own 30 with two timeouts left and roughly :20 on the clock.  Given the Jags’ secondary and the incredible game Manning was having, that would have been an interesting scenario for sure.  In fact, he pulled off a similar miracle in Miami in 1999,

The question is one of risk verses reward.  Obviously, it was an aggressive decision.  That’s why I support it.  Any time a coach proactively tries to win the game, I will praise the decision as long as the risk verses reward is not too strongly imbalanced.

In this case, there were essentially four plays that sank the Colts AFTER Caldwell’s call.

  • The defense failing to get the Jags off the field on 3rd and 2 (admittedly difficult)
  • The inexcusable allowing of a 20 yard pass to the side with :11 to play.  There is one place you can’t allow a completion in that situation.  The Jags were out of timeouts.  How you allow a WR to get 20 yards downfield and be wide open on the sideline is beyond me.
  • Kelvin Hayden dropping a potentially game winning interception.
  • Josh Scobee improbably hitting the third longest game winning field goal of all time (fyi: 2nd longest was Baronas in 2006).

So, was there real risk in Caldwell’s strategy?  There was obviously some risk, but it took two terrible plays and 59 yard field goal to beat the Colts.  It’s hard to call his move reckless considering all that went wrong to give the Jags’ the opportunity to win.

I would argue that those circumstances were so improbable that there’s just no way to pin this decision on Caldwell.  Had any of a number of players just done their jobs after the timeout, Indy would have been playing in overtime.

Decisions like this are always a balance of risk verses reward.  The risk was small.  Unfortunately, on a day when so many Colts played terribly, the mistakes of players were too much to overcome.

The time out call was a defensible one and by no means cost the Colts the game.  I would go so far as to say it had no real impact on the Colts’ loss.  There are plenty of scapegoats to be had, but Caldwell’s timeout should not be one of them.

UPDATE:  I forgot to mention that Jacksonville finished the game still holding a timeout.  It’s hard to argue that Caldwell’s timeout gave the Jags anything.  Had they called the timeout, the rest of the game plays out exactly the same.  The Jags gained nothing at all from Caldwell’s decision.