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Clock management may not be a strength for Indianapolis Colts interim head coach Jeff Saturday.
Trailing 24-17 with all three timeouts, the Colts got the ball back with 3:52 remaining in the fourth quarter in Monday night’s matchup with the Pittsburgh Steelers. They faced a tough task, taking over at their 7-yard line, but drove to the Pittsburgh 37 to face 4th-and-3 with two minutes to play.
Indianapolis converted, but the issue was that Saturday and the Colts failed to manage the clock. Matt Ryan was strip-sacked by Alex Highsmith on the next play and then scrambled for 14 yards on second down. The seconds continued to drain away until Saturday called his first timeout following an unsuccessful running play on 3rd-and-3. That left the Colts with only 30 seconds to spare.
The poor clock management became less relevant when Ryan’s fourth-down pass for Parris Campbell fell incomplete. But it nonetheless caught the eye of NFL Twitter, and the responses were not sympathetic:
Kevin Bowen @KBowen1070
Awful clock management to be clear. https://t.co/3meL1BI4eR
Jeff Saturday having three timeouts and letting a minute bleed off the clock pic.twitter.com/R9sJqdX0E1
Freezing Cold Takes @OldTakesExposed
Saturday defended his timeout usage, or lack thereof.
“I thought we had plenty of time. I wasn’t too concerned,” he told reporters about allowing 30 seconds to tick away after Ryan’s scramble. “We had plenty of timeouts. This wasn’t a press for time.”
Still, ending a one-score game with two timeouts isn’t ideal. The Colts, had they converted on fourth down, wouldn’t have had much time to work with.
It’s the sort of moment that critics of Saturday’s hiring after Frank Reich was fired—given that Saturday had no head coaching experience in the NFL or college—will point to as justification for their skepticism.
Granted, the Colts might not have been in need of a game-tying drive if they had been less dreadful in the first half, which ended with the Steelers up 16-3. And while Ryan was far better in the second half, leading the team on two scoring drives, he still finished 22-of-34 for 199 yards and a touchdown with an interception, a lost fumble inside the Pittsburgh 5-yard line and three sacks.
The Colts, now 4-7-1, couldn’t afford to let a game like this slip away. They may need to win out to even have a chance at the postseason.
The finer details, especially in endgame scenarios, are incredibly important in the NFL. A failure to convert a key fourth down ended the game, but Saturday’s clock management leading up to that play justifiably raised eyebrows.