To recap the situation:
When referee Tony Corrente went into further review mode to examine the details of the catch by Jesse James that instantly was ruled a touchdown by the on-field officials, there were 28 seconds remaining in the game, and the Steelers were out of timeouts. Mike Tomlin explained at his news conference today what was happening on the Steelers sideline between the time that Corrente announced the start of the review process and when Al Riveron handed down a verdict from league headquarters in New York.
"A lot of things transpired during that time period, and it starts with a review and what potentially could happen coming out of the review," said Tomlin. "We had a couple of scenarios. There was a "touchdown, drive over" scenario. There was the scenario that actually transpired where it was ruled incomplete. But there was another scenario that was more critical, more time specific that was being discussed by us. It was presented to us by the officials during the review process – that if it gets ruled "completed catch, down inbounds" that was probably the most significant element of the our discussion as we approached the last play. While they were in review, that was being discussed, because if his knee was down in the field of play, there would be a 10-second runoff, they'd spot the ball, wind the clock, and we'd be faced with a running clock in that circumstance.
"So that was probably the most significant element of our discussion when they were in review, and that was presented to us by one of the officials – that they may come out with a completed-ball-knee-down-in-the-field-of-play ruling – and he gave us an alert that it might include a 10-second runoff and a running clock. Ten-second runoff and a running clock, that was the scenario that maintained most of our attention of what could happen when they came out of review. What did happen when they came out of review was probably the least of the scenarios from my expectation, which was ruling it an incomplete pass."
Had Corrente come out and handed down a "completed catch, down inbounds" judgment, the Steelers' reality would have been this: second-and-goal from the 1-yard line, with 18 seconds left, no timeouts, and then clock would start as soon as the ball was put in play by the umpire. Remember how that worked out for the Ravens at the end of the game at Heinz Field the previous Sunday.
"There were multiple (offensive) plays being called for the reasons I explained," said Tomlin. "There were multiple potential circumstances depending upon what transpired when they came out of the review."
What Corrente came out of the booth with was a ruling of incomplete pass. So why didn't the Steelers have two plays called, so that after a 3-yard completion to Darrius Heyward-Bey in which he couldn't get out of bounds to stop the clock there would have been less confusion about whether to spike the ball or fake-spike the ball and run another play.
"In hindsight, knowing what they're coming out of the review booth with, certainly," said Tomlin. "But we were given multiple scenarios that they could come out of the review booth with, and that one scenario of "spotted ball in the field of play, winding the clock with a running clock" kind of took precedence in our discussions."
In an interview earlier in the day, Ben Roethlisberger said he wished he had just spiked the ball to stop the clock so that Chris Boswell could have kicked the tying field goal and sent the game into overtime. Tomlin also responded to that when asked.
"We had a nice conversation about it (Monday), and again today," said Tomlin. "I find comfort in the fact that No. 7 is my quarterback. If everybody on the field is uncomfortable, then that's advantage Pittsburgh Steelers. And that's why we chose not to spike that ball. We wanted to try to win that game in regulation. We knew a spike, a fake spike, or an incomplete pass, and then you're (sending) your field goal unit out, there would be extra seconds (left) there that I wanted to take advantage of. That's why we instructed him not to spike it. If given an opportunity to do that again, I'd do it again.
"We've made a lot of hay over the years in those circumstances when everyone is a little bit uncomfortable. We made a lot of hay in that circumstance vs. Dallas last year when everyone was a little bit uncomfortable and the ball was in No. 7's hands. I don't have any second-guessing about that. Those discussions are part of the learning process. It's just football."
And if Roethlisberger didn't feel as though the situation was one in which hay could be made successfully, did he have the option of going with his gut instincts?
"Certainly," said Tomlin. "There's no script to those moments. There's always latitude, professional latitude, particularly that goes with being a veteran quarterback in those circumstances. He is on the field. He is inside the helmet and on the field with those guys. He has a feel for what's transpiring on the field that we on the sidelines and in the booth do not have. So that's just normal operating procedure. We call plays all the time that he may change at the line of scrimmage based on game circumstances or what he sees."
And maybe the entire scenario is changed if the Steelers didn't use their final timeout to stop the clock with 34 seconds left at the end of JuJu Smith-Schuster's 69-yard catch-and-run. Did Tomlin want a timeout in that situation?
"I did not. Ben was signaling timeout, making eye contact with me on the sideline," said Tomlin. "I wanted to pocket that timeout, but in the midst of him making eye contact with me and signaling to see if we wanted a timeout, (referee) Tony (Corrente) interpreted it as Ben calling a timeout. That's why a timeout was awarded. During that timeout, I called Tony over and said, 'Why did you award that timeout? The timeouts are supposed to come from the bench.' He said, 'The timeout request came from Ben.' I said, 'I was looking at Ben. Ben was signaling timeout, but he wasn't signaling timeout at you. He was signaling timeout at me trying to get a confirmation of what we wanted to do.'
"Those things happen during the course of play. There's a lot going on. We were still given an opportunity to win the football game. Definitely not crying over spilled milk."
TOMLIN'S INJURY UPDATE
"We have a number of things to deal with from the game. James Conner will be having knee surgery this afternoon, and he will be placed on injured reserve. He will be replaced, and it will be done later today. (Conner) has an MCL injury. Unfortunate for him, but I liked the trajectory his career was going in 2017. He'll get well and continue on with his career. Antonio (Brown) has a significant contusion to his lower leg. He can be characterized as out this week. I don't want to frame it in any other way. I think it's simply too early to tell, and then you end up back-tracking. He's out this week with a significant lower leg contusion, and we'll see what the future of it holds at the top of next week.
"Ramon Foster came in on Monday reporting concussion-like symptoms, and for that he is in the protocol. I don't know where he is in the protocol, but we will do what's appropriate there in terms of making sure he's good to go.
"A couple of other things that could develop from a personnel standpoint: Vance McDonald could be available to us, Joe Haden could be available to us. We'll follow both guys throughout the work week and (monitor) their progress; the amount of which they're capable of working, the quality of that work, and those things will be our guide as we push forward toward game time. We do have an extra day this week. That will aid us and them, I would imagine, in them being available. We also have Marcus Gilbert coming back. We'll quickly get him back into the fold, evaluate his conditioning, rust, football readiness, etc., and do what's appropriate there as we get closer to game time. I would be remiss if I didn't mention the quality work Chris Hubbard has given us during that time period. Appreciative of that, and that provides us big-time flexibility moving forward."