PITTSBURGH PA - JANUARY 15: Wide Receiver Hines Ward #86 of the Pittsburgh Steelers celebrates after defeating the Baltimore Ravens 31-24 in the AFC Divisional Playoff Game at Heinz Field on January 15 2011 in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
Sometimes, settling for a field goal is the best choice.
Thank goodness Hines Ward's six-yard catch in the second quarter of the Steelers' divisional showdown with the Baltimore Ravens was overturned. That's a weird thing for a Steelers fan and blogger to write, but the challenge by Ravens head coach John Harbaugh was really a blessing in disguise for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The officials initially ruled that Ward held onto the ball long enough to count as a reception, although the ball was promptly jarred loose following a helmet-to-helmet collision by middle linebacker Ray Lewis. (Really, the Pittsburgh drive should've had a 1st and 10 from the spot, but the refs failed to flag Lewis for the hit.)
With a 4th-and-1 on the Baltimore 11 yard line, Mike Tomlin had his offense lined up to go for the first down conversion. Granted, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and his unit could've been out there just to get the defense to bite on the hard count—perhaps the Steelers had no designs on snapping that ball—but if that wasn't the case, boy would that have been a catastrophically poor decision.
You want to go for it on 4th and short when you're desperate and have no choice, or when your field position is such that your kicker's chances of splitting the uprights are slim and the upside of a punt is limited. I'm grateful that Tomlin is the kind of coach who can consider going for it on 4th down in unconventional situations—and more coaches beyond him, Bill Belichick and Sean Payton should be taking the plunge more often. There's no guarantee that converting results in a touchdown anyway. (In fact, with Roethlisberger's history against the Ravens, there's probably a five to ten percent chance of a pick-six!)
I'm grateful that Tomlin doesn't just play for the friendliest loss, the most defensible course of action in the post-game press conference. But a decision like this one is not gutsy, it's irrational. In that situation, you take the points. That Ward's catch was overturned was a blessing in disguise for the Steelers. Now hopefully Ward can make a speedy recovery.