The League

Leonard Shapiro
Columnist

Leonard Shapiro

Washington Post sports reporter, editor and columnist who has served on the NFL HOF Selection Committee.

Know when to fold 'em

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Has there ever been a head coach in the recent history of the NFL with the stones to admit that he made a terrible mistake that may well have cost his team a victory?

The Colts Jim Caldwell certainly didn't buck that trend when he defended his decision to call an ill-conceived timeout with 36 seconds remaining against the Jaguars Sunday, a move that backfired badly when Jacksonville kicker Josh Scobee nailed a 59-yard game-winning field goal as time expired.

The score was 28-28 with 42 seconds remaining and the Jaguars in possession on their own 23 when Maurice Jones-Drew ran eight yards on first down. That's when Caldwell inexplicably called a timeout. An incomplete pass from quarterback David Garrard followed, then a six-yard completion to pick up a first down, then a 22-yard completion that set up Scobee's winning kick.

If the Colts had not called timeout at a juncture at a point when the Jaguars seemed content to simply survive regulation and get the game into overtime, it seems quite likely Jacksonville would have stayed in run-out-the-clock, protect-the-ball mode the rest of the way. But given that halt in play, the Jaguars took full advantage.

Caldwell's explanation at his Monday news conference went like this:

"You never know if you're going to get the ball back in those situations," he said. "But the big thing we look at is if we can get the ball back for our offense, particularly on the road. We don't necessarily want to go to overtime. If we can win it in regulation, we want to give it a shot...We wanted to make certain we had a third down situation, where if they don't make it, they punt."

Oh please.

If the Colts don't call time out, the Jaguars almost certainly would have used between 10 and 15 seconds on their next two plays. If they did not make a third down, they would have punted on fourth down, likely pinning the Colts deep in their own territory with 10-15 seconds left. Peyton Manning is a Hall of Fame quarterback, but the odds of him getting his team in field goal range with that little time remaining seemed like a sucker's longshot bet, at best.

Instead, given new life, the Jaguars took full advantage and won the game, leaving the Colts at 2-2 and second-guessers with a legitimate beef about Caldwell's dumbfounding, Jim Zorn-like clock management decision.

The Colts have other problems. Their defense at the moment is in total disarray, despite returning all 11 starters from a year ago, when they also won seven of their dozen regular season victories by coming from behind in the fourth quarter.

The Colts still have the proper personnel to make a run at the playoffs, and possibly to go deep into the postseason, especially with Manning still at the top of his game. But if his coach keeps making dunderhead decisions at crunch time, they'll be lucky to be a wild card team.

By Leonard Shapiro  |  October 5, 2010; 11:04 PM ET  | Category:  Coaching , Indianapolis Colts , Leonard Shapiro Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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