Clock management is an under-appreciated coaching skill in the NFL. Poor decisions in the final seconds of a three-hour game have derailed some careers, even as the astute use of the last ticks of time and a careful use of time outs have advanced others.
Last weekend, in Denver, the home team took over at their own 20 with two available time outs and 31 seconds on the clock. The Broncos needed about 50 yards to have a good shot at a potential game-winning field goal, and Peyton Manning at quarterback.
However, John Fox, the Denver coach, had Manning take a knee, and both sides watched the clock run down to 00:00 - sending the game into overtime, in which the Baltimore Ravens would kick the winning field goal.
The next day, in Atlanta, the Seattle Seahawks were about to overcome a 20-point third-quarter deficit, looking at first-and-goal from the Falcons two-yard line with about 40 seconds left and trailing 27-21.
Pete Carroll, the Seattle coach, knew Atlanta had two time outs left, and it would be in his best interest to run the clock as close to zero before scoring the go-ahead touchdown. Instead, the Seahawks scored on the next play.
The Falcons took over on the 28 with 31 seconds left, and Matt Ryan picked up 41 yards on two passes. Mike Smith, the Atlanta coach, used his final time out, sent out his field goal unit and a 49-yard field goal won the game.
When to run the clock, and when to nurse it: the difference between winning and losing.