On Sunday, the unthinkable occurred when the Indianapolis Colts fell at the hands of the Jacksonville Jaguars at the same time as the Pittsburgh Steelers were able to win their game over the Baltimore Ravens. Beating the Ravens was a big challenge in itself, but the fact that the Jaguars were able to play the spoiler and eliminate the Colts from playoff contention just seemed too good to be true from a Steelers perspective.
But this roller coaster of a Sunday, one might say, was just leaving the station. That's because the Steelers were only guaranteed a playoff spot if the Chargers and Raiders played their Sunday night game to completion without it ending in a tie. The NFL Twitterverse started theorizing whether or not the two teams would simply kneel back and forth until the game reached its conclusion, though the idea was pretty swiftly dismissed as something that the league would never allow.
As it turns out, that's not the only way to tie an NFL game. Another way to do so is to play a game that becomes an immediate front-runner for game of the year, with lead changes galore and an intense overtime period that contained all the action you could possibly dream of.
We were quite literally seconds away from that exact outcome being the case. That seemed to be the way the game was trending, with the overtime period coming down to the wire and both the Raiders and Chargers well aware that a tie would lead both of them to a postseason berth. And it was at that moment that Chargers head coach Brandon Staley, lauded so frequently throughout the early portion of the season for his gutsy play calling and at one point a Coach of the Year front-runner, decided to call a timeout. He called it on 3rd & 4, waiting until the play clock had almost fully run out and the play clock was under 40 seconds to do so.
Now, there's no guarantee that the game would have ended in a tie had Staley not called that timeout, and some people argued that the full outrage that appeared on social media — we'll get to that shortly — wasn't warranted.
If there's any "hard evidence" so far that the call did matter, though, it didn't take long for examples to pop up on Twitter. Aside from Derek Carr's postgame interview where he said that the timeout "definitely" shifted the team's strategy, a little bit of lip reading — and speculation that we're reading correctly — between Chargers RB Austin Ekeler and Raiders long snapper Trent Sieg gives us some evidence.
Speculation aside, there are a lot of angry fans out there who just didn't understand what Staley's reasoning was for the timeout, even if we can't quite come to a consensus over what the Raiders' game plan would have been sans the Staley timeout.