During Sunday's win over the Steelers, the Chiefs got the ball at their own 30 with 1:10 left in the first half. The Steelers would get the ball to open the second half. At that moment, the Chiefs were trailing by 10 points and had all three of their timeouts.
The Chiefs called an end around to Charles that moved the chains - but didn't call a time out. Then they completed a short pass to Wade for a yard, but again, didn't call a time out. These two plays took 40 seconds off the clock. The Chiefs ran three more plays before time expired: two incomplete passes, and a fourth down play with one second remaining. Cassel was sacked for a seven yard loss on that play.
It was no surprise to me that the news media didn't question Haley about this after the game, because the Chiefs had scored a big upset. But I guarantee you that if the Chiefs had lost, it would have been the first question Haley was asked: why didn't the Chiefs make more of an effort to put points on the board before the end of the half?
After the euphoria of Sunday's win had dissipated, the media got back to business. At Monday's press conference, Haley was asked about that sequence of plays.
"We discussed [it] before the game and during the game," said the head coach. "We had a distinct, clear-cut plan for this team, and what could or could not happen. I think if we were going to [err] yesterday, it was going to be on the conservative side. I felt good with where we were, and I did not want something negative to happen at that stage."
"What you see happen in the league - and I've been part of it - [is] where you're trying to do something at the end of the half and something negative happens. All of a sudden, the game's basically over. I felt comfortable where we were - unless we made a real big play early."
My own post following Sunday's win characterized this decision as "boneheaded game management." But in a column this morning on his web site, Bob Gretz identifies it as a "winning decision" in this game.
So... which is it? A terrible mistake or a smart move?
After digesting Haley's response to Monday's questioning - and doing a little reflecting of my own - I think it's a sign that Todd Haley is maturing as a head coach. At several points this season, Haley's decisions in these kinds of situations have blown up in his face. When questioned later, he's defended them by saying that he wanted to remain aggressive.
But now that he's seen the downside of being aggressive simply for aggression's sake - a luxury he could afford while calling plays for a Hall of Fame quarterback and a trio of 1,000 yard receivers - Haley has realized that there is a time and a place for aggression. He's recognized that he can't depend entirely on his gut in a game situation. There are too many decisions to make, and not enough time to make them. He and his staff must consider what might happen in an upcoming game - and what the team is capable of doing - develop a plan to meet those contingencies, and stick to it.
In his column on the subject, Gretz points out that "when a team wins, the decisions are good - even if they are bad. If a team loses the game, the decisions are bad - even if they were good." True that. And I have to admit that if the Chiefs hadn't found it within themselves to step up and win this game, I might be among those criticizing Haley's decision at the end of the half.
But that said, I'd like to believe that even *I* would have recognized Haley's response to Monday's question for what it was: a sign that he is starting to make the transition from being an aggressive offensive coordinator to a smart head coach.