Staring at a seven-point deficit with a chaotic back-and-forth of a Monday night game coming to a close, Jeff Saturday’s Indianapolis Colts had 93 yards to go in 3 minutes and 52 seconds with three timeouts to get them there.
They came up 26 yards and seven points short with two timeouts left over.
In a flummoxing sequence on a hopeful game-tying drive, Saturday did not call a timeout following a Matt Ryan 14-yard scramble, letting 25 seconds drift away right along with the Colts’ hopes during a 24-17 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers on Monday Night Football.
“I thought we had plenty of time, I wasn’t really concerned,” Saturday said after the game. “We still had timeouts. I wasn’t too concerned. When [Ryan] was going down, I couldn’t tell where they were gonna start him from going down, right? If he was gonna get the first down. And then we got there, I expected us to get on the ball and have another play, a little bit quicker than that. But again, this wasn’t a press for time. We just didn’t make enough plays.”
Though the Colts certainly came up short of making enough plays during a loss in which they were 3 of 12 on third down and had just 290 yards of offense, they would have had a far better chance at making one or two more had Saturday called a timeout on his team’s final drive.
The decision not to call a timeout was roughly as confusing as the interim head coach’s explanation.
Down, 24-17, Indianapolis had all three of its timeouts left when it started its fateful final drive.
Coming off the two-minute warning, Ryan and the Colts converted on fourth-and-3. No timeout.
On the ensuing play, Ryan fumbled on a 7-yard sack, but Will Fries recovered to retain possession. No timeout.
Then Ryan scrambled 14 yards up the middle on a play hiked with 59 seconds to go. Ryan was well short of the first by 3 yards and a pivotal play loomed. Rather than call a timeout to preserve time and gather the troops, the Colts played on.
“We already had it, I mean we had it as the play was happening, that was the mode of the whole second half, so we already had it in our head, we were going to the next play, so as soon as [Ryan] got tackled we knew where we were going,” Saturday said. “Would I have liked him to snap it a little earlier, sure, but we never felt pressed for time.”
Roughly 25 seconds were lost from when Ryan went down to when he handed it off on third-and-3 to Jonathan Taylor, who was stuffed on a run up the gut. Only then did Saturday call his first timeout of the second half.
A play later, a Ryan pass drifted incomplete to wrap up the ballgame.
Had Saturday taken a timeout after Ryan’s scramble — or on a play or two prior — there’s no guarantee Indy would’ve scored on the drive, or forced overtime or gone on to win. But it was a baffling few minutes in prime time as Saturday’s on-the-job training came into all the wrong focus.
Asked about the play on three occasions in his postgame news conference, Saturday seemed to downplay it each and every time. He underscored that time was somehow not at a premium as it symbolically ticked away on the Colts’ chances and furthermore on their season.
At 4-7-1, the Colts realistically left Monday with timeouts to spare and just the opposite when it comes to aspirations of salvaging a season.
“I just didn’t think time was of the essence at that moment,” Saturday said. “I thought we had a good play, I felt like we would get to it. Obviously, we didn’t do great on the back half, but I felt good about the call before, I felt like we’d have time, we would have timeouts afterwards, we were in striking distance, so I never felt like the pressure of needing the timeout.”
Colts owner Jim Irsay’s decision to hire Saturday, with no coaching experience beyond the high school level, was immediately panned by many. Gasoline was added to that fire on Monday night when Saturday’s squad left Lucas Oil Stadium with two timeouts left and two losses in a row.