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Mike Tomlin’s 3 questionable decisions hurt Steelers in loss to Jaguars

Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin looks on

Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin looks on against the Jacksonville Jaguars in the first half of the NFL American Football game at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA, 14 January 2018. Credit: WICKERH/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock / WICKERH/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock

PITTSBURGH — The Pittsburgh Steelers’ 45-42 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars in the AFC divisional playoff round on Sunday produced many second-guesses.

What the Steelers failed to do on a pair of fourth-and-short plays and why they attempted an onside kick late in the game left many fans scratching their heads.

“I wouldn’t say it’s shock,” Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said of the loss. “I wouldn’t say it’s hurt, either. It’s unfortunate we didn’t get the job done, so you can characterize it however you want. We understand the business we are in. We embrace it. We live for it, but we did not get it done.”

Jacksonville took a 14-0 lead in the first quarter before the Steelers’ offense found a rhythm. With Pittsburgh facing a fourth-and-1 at the Jags’ 21, running back Le’Veon Bell was dropped for a 4-yard loss on a pitch play.

“I felt comfortable with that,” Tomlin said of the play call, which led to zero points. “They packed the A [gap] and the B [gap]. Obviously wasn’t comfortable with the result. We didn’t execute well enough and they did, and I guess you got to acknowledge that.”

Trailing 28-21, the Steelers faced another fourth-and-1 at the Jags’ 39 with 12:50 left. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger threw a deep ball intended for JuJu Smith-Schuster that was incomplete. Why not run the ball with Bell or even Roethlisberger? In his career, Roethlisberger has converted 18 of 19 fourth-and-1 plays.

“I don’t know,” he said. “It’s been a while since we’ve run a quarterback sneak. I’m for it. I don’t know, that’s kind of over my head when it comes to why we don’t do it.”

Late in the game, on a play that began at the Jaguars’ 9, Roethlisberger ran for a yard before throwing a lateral to Bell, who ran another 8 yards for the touchdown as the Steelers moved within 42-35 with 2:18 left.

With two timeouts remaining, the Steelers could have kicked deep or gone for the onside kick. Tomlin elected for the onside kick, which the Jaguars recovered, and with a short field, the visitors made it 45-35 on a 45-yard field goal from Josh Lambo with 1:45 left.

Why not kick it deep?

“We wanted to get the ball back,” Tomlin said. “We hadn’t stopped them convincingly enough to take any other approach, in my opinion, and it was my decision.”

Did it cost the Steelers the game? No, but the failures on fourth-and-short and getting down so quickly didn’t help matters. The Steelers had to come back from 21-0, 28-7, 35-21 and 42-28 deficits and never got closer than the final score.

The Steelers produced 545 total yards and averaged seven yards a play, but Roethlisberger needed to throw 58 passes to do it and didn’t have a fully healthy Antonio Brown at his disposal. In his return from a calf injury, Brown was outstanding with seven catches for 132 yards and two touchdowns.

“Came out a little sluggish,” Brown said. “A couple of turnovers, a couple of mishaps, but we just didn’t get it done.”

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