It may have gone overlooked in the moment as Detroit Lions fans celebrated their first trip to the NFC Championship game since 1991, but the end of their Divisional Round game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers ended with some truly bizarre coaching decisions from both teams.
Late in the game, Lions linebacker Derrick Barnes intercepted Buccaneers Baker Mayfield, giving Detroit the ball back up eight points with just 1:33 left. Tampa Bay only had one timeout left, so the game was practically over. Detroit could run at least 1:20 of that clock over the course of three plays—not including the actual time it takes to run each play. As long as the Lions ran a play that took at least 4 seconds on average, the game was over.
However, both teams made very odd decisions during those three plays. For one, the Lions opted to take three kneel-downs, but they did not run the maximum amount of time on each play. Their second kneel-down came with 16 seconds still left on the play clock. And their third kneel-down happened with 14 seconds left on the play clock and 36 seconds left in the game.
That’s 30 extra seconds Detroit could have bled, but they were bailed out by an even more curious decision by Buccaneers coach Todd Bowles. Bowles chose not to use Tampa Bay’s final timeout, even though they theoretically could have stopped the clock with 36 seconds left, forced the Lions to attempt a 48-yard field goal, and had ample time for at least a hail mary if Detroit had missed the kick.
On Monday, coach Dan Campbell admitted they had made a mistake in their clock management at the end.
“We didn’t handle that whole thing well on our end,” Campbell said. “We should’ve bled it more than we did. Look, I’ll be the first to admit that, and that’s on me.”
Bowles, on the other hand, didn’t seem to have any regrets after the game.
“They already had a field goal and lined up and it would have been about 12 seconds left on the clock in the ball game,” Bowles said Sunday night. “We weren’t going to come back from that. No sense in prolonging the obvious.”
And while Campbell says he made a mistake, he also said he got a sense that Bowles wasn’t going to use that final timeout.
“We knew they had a timeout left and I could tell he wasn’t going to call it. And so, that’s just – that’s how it ended.”