The scene before the timeout
The Chiefs trailed 34-31 and were driving down the field late in the game to tie or go ahead by three against San Diego. The Chiefs had the ball at the Chargers 16-yard line (in range for a field goal) at the 2-minute warning.
On the play after that stoppage of clock, Alex Smith hit Dexter McCluster on the left side of the field for an 11-yard gain. DMC stayed in bounds, which meant the clock continued to run. The Chiefs had the ball at the 5-yard line and a first down trailing by three points with the clock running.
Andy Reid decided to take a timeout right there, with 17 seconds left on the play clock and 1:28 on the game clock. That's your controversy. Should he have taken the timeout? Should he have let the play clock run down?
There are two arguments with those who disagree with the timeout.
Argument 1: Andy Reid should've let the play clock run down to 1 second then called a timeout
This is the argument into which I fall, which says the Chiefs should have let the play clock run down to 1 second and then called the timeout. That would have put 1:11 on the game clock as the Chiefs lined up for that play form the 5-yard line. Basically, instead of calling the timeout with 15 seconds left on the play clock, the Chiefs should have called the timeout with 1 second left on the play clock.
Argument 2: Andy Reid should not have called a timeout at all
The second argument from folks is that Andy Reid should not have called a timeout at all and continued to let the clock run as the Chiefs tried to score, which would've left less time on the game clock, depending on when they scored.
Andy Reid: "I was just calming the storm there and making sure that-we needed a touchdown at that point-make sure that we had the right things in and we were ready to go."
Alex Smith: "With the clock rolling, it was to let us settle down. The timeout came from the sidelines. I think it was to make sure we were in the right play. You have to be careful there to rush because you could waste a down. Those downs are so vital, you never know if you're going to score on the next play. I think it was just making sure we were in the right situation, to settle down and make sure we had the right personnel on the field and the right play called. And I think it was worth it. It obviously came with the touchdown on the next play."
My take: The timeout was fine, but let the play clock run down
For me, it's not so much the timeout I have an issue with as it is Reid calling it with 15 seconds left on the play clock while the game clock continued to run. If you're going to use a timeout there (which is also debatable), the best move would be to let that play clock run down to 1 second and then call a timeout. That would put the game clock at roughly 1:11. The Chiefs had plenty of time to either score a touchdown or kick a field goal at that point. There was no reason not to let that play clock run down to one second because it would just mean less time for San Diego to run down the field (which they ended up doing).
I'm on Alex Smith's side when I think that the timeout was OK because it calmed them down and they scored. They took the lead. But I just think Andy should've waited a little longer before calling it.
There are going to be strong arguments from those who say Reid should not have called a timeout at all there. I can understand those. Personally I disagree due to the explanations from Andy and Alex -- that the Chiefs needed to calm down and think about what they were doing there. Yes, they are "professionals" and should be able to execute a play in a hurry but they're also regular human beings and if they felt they needed to calm down there, then I can buy that.
So, for me, the timeout wasn't the reason the Chiefs lost the game. Yes, it was a gaffe but it wasn't the reason they lost. You have to have some trust in your defense, even on a day like Sunday, to stop the opponent from going 80 yards in 1:24. You just don't think that's going to happen.
One key to remember here is that if Andy waited 16 more seconds to run the play clock down, it doesn't necessarily mean that the Chargers would have or would have not scored. You enter into a slippery slope when you start looking at this like "Well, the Chargers would've scored with 8 seconds left instead of 24 if the Chiefs had waited to call that timeout" because the dynamics of the game would have changed if Andy's decision was different.