You're on the road and playing with your backup quarterback. The scoreboard says you're losing by three points, and with the ball at the opponent's 1-yard line a tying field goal virtually is assured. The game clock tells you there's time for one more play. Are you going for the touchdown, which means you win if you make it and lose if you don't? Are you playing it safe and taking it into overtime? And if you are going to go for the touchdown, what's the play-call? Oh, and hurry up with all of that because the 40-second play clock is ticking …
This was the situation facing the Steelers in the final five seconds of their Monday night game in San Diego against the Chargers. They trailed, 20-17, ball inside the 1-yard line. Mike Vick at quarterback instead of Ben Roethlisberger. Score a touchdown and fly back to Pittsburgh as a 3-2 team still very much in the thick of everything. Get stuffed and go home with a 2-3 record that includes a two-game losing streak without your franchise quarterback who might miss another 3-4 games.
"That comes with the territory," said Coach Mike Tomlin. "I tell the guys all the time that everybody has something ugly about their job. The little guys have to get in some uncomfortable piles from time to time and mix it up with the big guys. The big guys have to chase little people all day and conditioning is a factor. I have some decisions to make. Together we eat, or not. If we all embrace the difficulties of our positions, it gives us a better chance to be collectively successful."
In that situation, Tomlin embraced the difficulty of his position and didn't waver. As soon as Heath Miller caught that 16-yard pass to convert a third-and-10 from the San Diego 17-yard line, Tomlin was going for the touchdown and the victory. No overtime. All in.
"I'm just trying to win football games. I just don't live in fear," said Tomlin. "I don't worry about those things. I can't. I can't waste time worrying about that. I have to do what I feel is appropriate, and most of it is gut-oriented, not only in terms of the men we're working with but also based on what has transpired in that stadium to get us to that point."
To that point in Qualcomm Stadium, the Steelers defense had played well but was wilting slowly in the heat and to the talented right arm of Phillip Rivers. While it was a virtual certainty the Steelers could get into overtime by kicking a field goal, there was no way of knowing how the extra period would unfold. And no matter how overtime might unfold, would the Steelers ever be in a better position to win this game than having one play from the San Diego 1-yard line?
After Miller's catch, there also was a penalty on the Chargers for unnecessary roughness that moved the ball only inches toward the goal line but did stop the clock. That meant the Steelers were able to preserve their final timeout.
"I knew the clock wouldn't start until the snap on the subsequent down," said Tomlin. "It comes with that penalty."
But having that timeout didn't affect Tomlin's decision. He was going for the touchdown even if he didn't. Le'Veon Bell was getting the football. And San Diego using its final timeout to set its defense after the Steelers came out for the final play in a wildcat formation had no impact on anything.
"Exact same call after the timeout," said Tomlin. "Run the play.
"We know what Le'Veon's capable of. We have a great deal of confidence in his abilities. Really, there was no hesitation. He was our team MVP a year ago, he's getting into form here in 2015. He was a significant contributor to that point in the game and our efforts offensively. We were going to give him the ball."
The Steelers gave him the football, and Bell scored. There was joy throughout Steelers Nation because the all-in wager paid off in a big way.
"I've always kind of been that guy. Ask my mom, she'll tell you," said Tomlin about his thought process. "You have to have the courage of your convictions. You can miss a lot of life just hesitating, or not taking calculated risks associated with chasing greatness or living out your dreams. I've always been one to try to do that. I've always been one to try to encourage those around me to do that.
"We were going to play to win. We were not going to play not to lose. That's the approach we took. We talked about it openly the night before the game, that we were going to do what was necessary to win the football game from a calculated risk standpoint, whether it was conventional or non-conventional. We don't keep secrets in that regard. We don't live in our fears in that regard. I like the fact that the group embraces that."
TOMLIN'S INJURY UPDATE
"Will Allen has an ankle injury, and he's getting an MRI today. I'll have more information about him as we move forward. Ross Ventrone has a hamstring injury that's being evaluated, and I'll also have more information on him as we push through the week. Some guys who have missed time who seemingly will be available to us – Ryan Shazier, we expect to be available to us, and Cortez Allen will continue to work his way back. No real update on Ben. I hadn't requested one. I've really been focused on the guys on the brink (of returning) like Shazier, or guys who got hurt in the game like Will Allen. We have until 4 p.m. (Tuesday) to activate Martavis. We'll do that before 4 p.m."