Late in this afternoon’s game between the Indianapolis Colts and the Detroit Lions, a timeout call proved to be quite important.
The Colts were down six points late in the game, but they were in great position. They were at the Lions’ 12 yard line with 1:15 left, and the Lions and Jim Caldwell needed to start seriously taking their timeouts in order to preserve time in an effort to get the ball back to their offense. So when a timeout was called, nobody thought anything of it - it was just Caldwell being smart and taking a timeout. Except for the timeout was called by Chuck Pagano and the Colts, not Caldwell and the Lions.
The Colts would end up scoring two plays later, but they left 43 seconds on the board for the Lions to work with. Ultimately, that proved to be too much time, as Matthew Stafford and company sliced their way through the Colts defense to set up a game-winning field goal. So the question had to be asked: what was Chuck Pagano thinking with that timeout?
He explained it after the game.
“We wanted to get guys in the huddle. Get a play called,” Pagano said. “Yeah, we can look back and say, ‘you know what, it would have been nice to bleed a lot more time off the clock.’ So looking back on it, could we have burned more time off the clock? Yeah. But we had some personnel issues, we wanted to get a different personnel group in there, whatever it was, and I decided to call a timeout there. Regroup and get back to the line of scrimmage. We felt like it was more important at that time to get back, get gathered, get a call in, and get settled, because we still needed a touchdown. And [we] felt like, shoot, they’re going to have to go whatever they have to go to get in field goal range and we could close it out.”
Pagano’s explanation is exactly what you’d expect, and it’s totally understandable. If the Colts didn’t score a touchdown, it wouldn’t matter how much time they left for the Lions - so priority number one right there had to be scoring the touchdown, which meant using the timeouts if necessary. And I guess only the Colts truly know whether that timeout was necessary (as only they know what the confusion or personnel was).
But the question has to at least be asked? Did that timeout ultimately play a role in the Colts losing the football game? If Pagano didn’t take that timeout, odds are Jim Caldwell would have (though, as Colts fans know, you can never fully know what to expect from Caldwell and timeouts). If the Colts had then completed the same play, a six-yard pass to Donte Moncrief, the Lions may then have chosen to use their next timeout (though, again, it’s hypothetical). That would have left them with only one timeout, which would have definitely impacted their final drive (on which they used all three, in reality). Or, if Caldwell had decided to not use his timeouts and trust his defense, then the Colts could have run the clock down before scoring, giving Stafford little time to answer. As you can tell, it’s a lot of “what if” and we don’t really have many definitive answers - so because of that, I don’t think it’s fair to just directly say that the timeout cost the Colts the game. We don’t know how things would have turned out had the Colts not taken the timeout, but it’s definitely something worth noting and a discussion worth bringing up. It wasn’t the best use of a timeout by any means, and it’s possible that it had a significant impact on the outcome of the game.