By: John Raffel
Sunday's Super Bowl game between the Giants and Patriots had a rather bizarre ending that serves as a lesson to all coaches on all levels, including high school, on how to properly manage the clock.
You undoubtedly recall that the Giants, who needed only a field goal to beat the Patriots, were well within field goal range as precious seconds were ticking off the clock. Once a team is inside the 20, it's basically a chip shot. If the field goal puts the offensive team in the lead, the defensive team wants to make sure its offense can get the ball back with plenty of time left on the clock.
The Giants wanted to delay scoring so the Patriots would have little time left when they got the ball back ― assuming, of course, that New York would score. The danger for the Giants is what if they fumble on the next play? For the Patriots to allow the Giants to score, what if New York has a bad snap on the field goal? Granted, that rarely happens in the NFL.
You might have seen the same scenario in a college game since collegiate field goal kickers are usually just as reliable as those in the NFL, unless he's from Michigan where there's no such thing as a chip shot field goal.
You would probably never see this in high school football because field goal kicking isn't in the arsenal of many prep teams. In high school football, a coach would instruct his defense to keep the offense out of the end zone on the last drive of the game and even if a field goal would win it, he'll take his chances against the other team's kicker who would be facing enormous pressure.
But what happened in the Super Bowl indicates how important it is for coaches to use the clock. I remember many years ago, when Monte Clark was coaching the Lions against Minnesota, that I was screaming at the TV set as the Lions were nursing a two-point lead and Minnesota was driving into chip shot field goal range.
Clark, who figured you don't stop the clock when you're in the lead, didn't have the foresight to realize the Vikings were all but certain to take the lead and he had to save some time on the clock for his offense. But Monte, never known for being that smart during a game, was content not to use any of his timeouts and hope his team could block the field goal attempt. In typical Lions' fashion, they lost it. Monte never heard the end of it.
It's also important to call timeouts at critical moments. Too many coaches wait until they have the ball and are driving for a go-ahead score with very little time remaining. I covered a high school game last fall when a team, trailing by a touchdown with three minutes to go, immediately began using its timeouts. Why so early?
Granted, they can't use those timeouts during their drive when they get the ball back. But they're preserving valuable seconds on the clock. If they let the clock run while they're on defense, they've got less time to work with on offense. You can't get that time back unless you call an early timeout. There are other ways to stop the clock like going out of bounds or throwing an incomplete pass.
But once that time is gone, it's never coming back.
But as I recall, most coaches are calling timeouts earlier in order to save time they think they'll need for a final drive.
The New York Giants,who were 9-7 during the regular season, proved that you can win it all if you're playing your best football late in the season. In Michigan, how many 5-4 teams have qualified for the football playoffs and made it to the title game? Quite a few.