There’s a lot going on for an NFL head coach during the game, especially in the final seconds. Game management isn’t easy.
It’s a lot harder when you’re in your third game as a coach above the high-school level.
Jeff Saturday was a debatable pick as the Indianapolis Colts‘ interim coach, and every mistake will be dissected. His management of the final couple minutes in Monday night’s 24-17 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers deserves some second guessing.
The Colts ended up having two timeouts remaining at the end of the game, and everyone noticed.
The Colts trailed 24-17 with all three timeouts left. They picked up a fourth-down conversion just after the two-minute warning. That’s when the game management issues began. Matt Ryan was sacked on first down and that was a great opportunity to take a timeout with about 1:30 left.
“It’s a running clock too, and the Colts are burning up a lot of time right now with all their timeouts,” ESPN analyst Troy Aikman said.
The clock kept running. The snap came with 59 seconds left, wasting about 31 seconds.
Then came a significant sequence. Ryan took off up the middle for a 14-yard run. It was surprising by the 37-year-old quarterback. He made a costly error when he dove forward before getting the first down, giving himself up and setting up a third-and-3. Ryan might have stumbled a bit at the end of the long run but he needed to find a way to keep his feet and get the first down. Instead, the Colts faced a huge third-down play and the clock was running.
And that was the time Saturday needed to call timeout. Not to conserve time necessarily, but at least to let the offense regroup. Ryan went down with 51 seconds left at the Steelers’ 26-yard line. ESPN showed Saturday on the sideline, standing stone-faced.
“They’ve got to take a timeout here, I would imagine,” ESPN play-by-play announcer Joe Buck said. “But they’re not.”
“Wow,” Aikman said.
The Colts ran on the next play and Jonathan Taylor was stopped for no gain. That snap came with 34 seconds left. From the time the Colts snapped the ball on first down, when Ryan was sacked, they ran two plays in a full minute of game time despite having all three timeouts. Ryan could have called timeout too, but he didn’t.
“I thought we had plenty of time, I wasn’t really concerned, we still had timeouts,” Saturday told the media after the game. “I wasn’t too concerned.
“I expected us to get on the ball and have another play a little quicker than that, but again, this wasn’t a ‘pressed for time,’ we just didn’t make enough plays.”
After Taylor was stopped on third down, they finally took timeout with 30 seconds left. The Colts threw incomplete on fourth down and the game was all but over. The Colts didn’t bother to call their final two timeouts as the Steelers kneeled on it and ran out the clock.
Saturday was an unconventional choice to be the Colts’ interim coach, to say the least. Owner Jim Irsay was excited for the hire, but pretty much everyone wondered if it would work. Saturday started with a win over the Las Vegas Raiders, but the Colts have lost two in a row since then.
Saturday hasn’t looked overwhelmed over most of his first three games as an NFL coach. But on Monday, he seemed to make some obvious errors, and it’s tough to ignore given his unique situation.