In his rookie season as an NFL head coach (or, for that matter, a head coach at any level), Mike McCoy has received no shortage of criticism, most of it perfectly fair and well-warranted, for questionable clock management at the end of halves and games. But we have seen nothing from McCoy that rivals the incomprehensible stupidity we saw from Andy Reid in the last two minutes of yesterday's game.
After mulling it over for nearly 24 hours, I am still at a loss to understand how a coach of Reid's experience, with a mostly successful track record, could manage to pee down his own leg at the end of a close game with such stupefying panache. Our game-winning drive was exceedingly impressive, and it is not my intent to detract from the team's achievement in having pulled it off. However, it is beyond argument that we should not have ever been in a position of getting the ball back with 1:22 remaining and still in possession of two timeouts. That we were in such a position makes this game, above all else, a coaching loss of the highest order on the part of Andy Reid. In summation:
1) Calling timeout with 1:28 remaining, clock running, and 15 seconds on play clock
This was the first in a series of stunningly inept decisions on Reid's part. The Chiefs had first-and-goal at the five yard line. Chargers have two timeouts remaining. Short of turning the ball over, intentionally stopping the clock is the absolute last thing in the world the Chiefs want to be doing in that situation. They enjoyed every strategic advantage at that point, and that advantage increases exponentially with each second that ticks off the clock. Reid's postgame justification for calling the timeout was that he needed time to get the right play in. Andy, there were 15 seconds left on the play clock and your team was already at the line.
You don't need a perfect play. Hell, you don't even need a successful play. Bang Jamaal Charles into the middle of the line and make the Chargers stop the clock. Then do it again. Even if you gain no yards on either play, your strategic advantage has been augmented. Making the Chargers use their remaining timeouts should be the main priority. Scoring quickly actually does far more harm than good from the Chiefs' perspective. You have five yards to go, three plays to get it, and the opposing defense has been powerless to stop you on the ground for the better part of the game. Even if we give Reid the benefit of the doubt that he needed to call timeout to carefully consider his options, the absolute worst one he could have picked was....
2) Throwing to the end zone on first down?
You can't even be serious, Andy. How many years have you been coaching in this league? You actually took a team to the Super Bowl once, didn't you? From the Chargers' perspective, this was arguably the best possible thing that could've happened. Only six additional seconds ran off the clock and we retained both of our timeouts. I'm going to repeat this because it's almost unconscionable that it's true: the Chiefs had first-and-goal at the 5 with 1:28 remaining, the clock was running, and the Chargers got the ball back at 1:22 having not used any timeouts. Even having seen it with my own eyes, it beggars belief that the sentence I just typed is factually accurate.
In point of fact, one would have to search long and hard to find an instance of stupider clock management in the entire history of pro football. You simply cannot throw the ball in that situation. There is no conceivable justification for it, on this planet or any other. That Reid actually stopped a running clock, considered all his available options, and still chose the worst possible one, is simply a breathtaking display of inanity.
3) Playing cover-2 on the Chargers' final play
Admittedly, this one probably falls more on the shoulders of defensive coordinator Bob Sutton, but Reid is the head coach, so the buck ultimately stops with him. The situation: you lead by four points with 31 seconds remaining. The opponent has the ball on your 26 yard line. They have just used their final timeout. What is the one thing you can't possibly allow to happen as a defense? Letting a receiver get behind you in the end zone. What the Chiefs could possibly been thinking, I have no idea. The sensible play would've been to station a minimum of four (even five or six wouldn't be unreasonable) defensive backs at the goal line, since the only thing you need to prevent is the Chargers scoring a touchdown.
You don't care if they complete a pass. You don't care if they get a first down. It is 2nd-and-15 and the offense's options are severely limited at this point. They almost have no choice but to throw it in the end zone. If they complete a pass and get tackled in bounds, they have to spike the ball and bring up fourth down. If they complete a pass (even for a first down) and get out of bounds, an additional 6-7 seconds have run off the clock and their situation has not improved appreciably. They still have to chuck it in the end zone, only now their pass route options are limited by a shorter field. That the Chiefs came out in a defensive set that allowed any potential for any receiver to get behind the defense in the end zone is, from a coaching perspective, absolutely appalling and inexcusable.
This year's Chargers (much like Norv Turner's Chargers before them) have built a reputation as a team that finds nigh-impossible ways of not winning games they have no business losing. Yesterday, Andy Reid and the Chiefs seemed intent on outdoing them at their own dubious specialty. In the annals of hideously awful end-of-game coaching, yesterday's display from Reid deserves a place of honor.