When a team takes the lead late in the game, it is common to immediately wonder if they scored too fast. It is just as common for someone to argue that when the team is losing, their top priority is to score, and it doesn’t matter how much or how little time it takes. They just need to take the lead.
The truth is somewhere in between. Using more time doesn’t necessarily mean changing the play calling. It can be as simple as waiting to snap the ball until the play clock is at three seconds if the game clock is running. Doing this could have had a huge impact on the game for the Bengals.
The clock kept running after the second play of the drive when Joe Mixon was tackled in bounds following a reception. They snapped the ball on third down with 3:00 on the game clock and 21 seconds on the play clock. If they had waited until there were three seconds on the play clock, they could have gotten the clock down two 2:42 (using an additional 18 seconds). After the ball was completed to C.J. Uzomah on the next play, they could have let the clock run down to the two-minute warning.
If this were the case, Dalton’s 16-yard completion to Tyler Boyd would have resulted in the play clock starting with 1:40 on the clock. If the Bengals snapped the ball with three seconds on the play clock, they could have gotten it down to 1:03.
In this scenario, there would have been 59 seconds on the clock when Andy Dalton completed a pass to A.J. Green, who was tackled on the 11-yard line. The Bengals snapped the ball 32 seconds later with 17 seconds on the play clock. If they had let the play clock run down to three seconds, there would have been 25 seconds on the clock when the next play ended with Green running out-of-bounds following another reception.
As a result, Mixon would have run the ball into the end zone to take the lead with 22 seconds on the clock, and following the kickoff, the Steelers would have gotten the ball back with 16 seconds to play. In reality, the Steelers had 1:12 when they got the ball for the game-winning drive.
Obviously, this is all academic. As the situation with the play clock changes, both the offensive and defensive play calls would have changed and the Steelers would have certainly used a timeout at some point.
Just the same, it demonstrates that the Bengals could have done more to use the clock while still aggressively trying to score. Remember, they still had two timeouts, so using the clock early would not have necessarily put them in a bad position if they took a little longer to get down field.