When it comes to NFL coaching, the award for most baffling decision of the weekend probably goes to Tampa Bay’s Todd Bowles, who made a very questionable late-game decision during the Buccaneers’ 31-23 divisional-round loss to the Detroit Lions on Sunday.
The Buccaneers had a chance to get the ball back with just under 40 seconds left to play against the Lions, but that didn’t happen, because Bowles refused to use his final timeout. When Detroit’s Derrick Barnes picked off Baker Mayfield with 1:33 left to play, the game appeared to be over, but the Buccaneers caught a break because the Lions weren’t using the entire play clock before taking a knee on their final three plays.
Due to that fact, Jared Goff ended up kneeling the ball on third down with 36 seconds left to play. At that point, Bowles could have called a timeout, which would have made the Lions run a play on fourth-and-13 from Tampa Bay’s 31-yard line, but he decided to take the timeout home with him.
After the game, Bowles tried to explain why he decided not to call a timeout in that situation.
“They already had a field goal lined up and it would’ve been about 12 seconds left on the clock to end the ball game, we weren’t going to come back from that,” Bowles told the media. “No sense in prolonging the obvious.”
This is a bizarre explanation that makes absolutely no sense. For one, it makes it seem like Bowles wasn’t paying attention to the clock. There were 36 seconds left after Goff took a knee on third down, not 12. Goff did take his third-down snap with 14 seconds left on the play clock — which was a horrible decision by the Lions, but that’s another story — so maybe Bowles was expecting the Lions to use the entire play clock, but they didn’t and because of that, a timeout should have immediately been called.
If Bowles had used his timeout, it would have forced Detroit to make a decision on fourth down. The Lions almost certainly would not have gone for it in that situation, which means they would have punted it or kicked a field goal. As Bowles mentioned, he assumed that Detroit would attempt a field goal and because of that, he didn’t think there was any way the Bucs could come back from what would have been an 11-point deficit if the Lions made a field goal.
Apparently, Bowles isn’t aware that kickers can actually miss field goals. If the Lions had tried one, it would have come from 49 yards out, which isn’t an easy kick, especially in a high-pressure situation. As a matter of fact, it would have made a lot of sense to test Lions kicker Michael Badgley, who has a career field goal percentage of just 59.1% between 45 and 49 yards.
That means there was a 40% chance that the Buccaneers would have gotten the ball back. Let’s say the field goal takes six seconds off the clock, even then, the Buccaneers would have gotten the ball back with 30 seconds left at their own 39 and they would have needed to drive just 61 yards for a potential game-tying touchdown.
Bowles was asked about the timeout situation again on Monday and he doubled down on his answer.
“They were in field-goal range, would have had 12 seconds calculated after using that timeout to come back from it, then we would’ve been down 11 points,” Bowles told media. “It’s kind of pointless. You kind of know when the game is over and the game was over.”
This is just a horrible explanation and it’s hard to believe that an NFL head coach is saying this. If they make the field goal, you’re down 11 as Bowles says, but if they miss it or if you block it, then you’re in good shape. Also, Bowles kept mentioning that the Bucs would have only had “12 seconds” to work with, which also makes no sense.
That’s the number someone clearly gave him after Mayfield’s interception. Since it came at the 1:33 mark, the Lions could have kneeled the ball twice and if they used the entire play clock, the game clock would have gone down to 12 or 13 seconds before the Lions ran their third-down play, but the Lions DIDN’T use the entire play clock. Instead they gave the Bucs life by giving them an extra 24 seconds to work with, but Bowles decided he didn’t want anything to do with that extra time.
The fact that the Lions didn’t use the entire play clock on their kneel-downs was befuddling, but the fact that Bowles didn’t try to take advantage of that is even more confusing and the fact that he tried to explain it away with an explanation that made no sense was the cherry on top of his bad decision sundae.