- Michael Rothstein, ESPN Staff Writer
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ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- Detroit coach Jim Schwartz saw an opening in the coverage, saw something he liked when Sam Martin, David Akers, Don Muhlbach and the rest of the field goal protection unit ran onto the field in the fourth quarter Sunday.
So Schwartz made a decision. His team would fake the field goal and send Martin scampering up the right side on a slick, muddy Heinz Field. It is a decision and a play that has been scrutinized over and over again over the past day with his team up four points, 27-23, before losing, 37-27.
And a day later, he'd do it all over again.
“I just know what goes on in our locker room,” Schwartz said. “Everybody knows why we called it and why we practiced it and everything else. We really don't care what anybody else's feeling is.
“We got the look we wanted. We thought it was there. We didn't execute it great. Some guys executed it really well. Larry Warford made a great block. We had a chance right there to really put a dagger in that game and go up 11.”
So, to be clear, the play was called as a potential touchdown, not just an attempt to gain 5 yards for a first down. That, Schwartz seemed to indicate, would have been a minimum.
So what happened?
Detroit lined up for the field goal on the right hash mark and Pittsburgh was heavily stacked to the left side with six guys lined up on the line. There was a gap in the middle and then four players lined up on the near side, the right side, where Martin would eventually run.
The safety, Ryan Clark, was initially lined up on the near side 5 yards off the line of scrimmage. Right before the snap, he sprinted to the far side to put seven players over there and four where Martin would try to go.
After the game, Clark would approve of Schwartz's call.
“It was drawn up extremely well,” Clark said. “But when you've got guys that hustle to the ball on your front line the way we do, that's how you stop things like that.”
Martin had a fairly large hole at first and could have easily reached the first down marker at least. Dominic Raiola pushed his man outside to give Martin a hole from the right professional hash out past the college hash marks.
At the same time, Warford provided a clear path to run through ahead of Martin. He ran right at cornerback William Gay, who was waiting to make a play, and blocked him well.
“It's one of those things that it was there for a second and he got through,” Akers said. “That's why you play the game. He made a good play and they were able to defend it.”
At the same time, Muhlbach and tackle Riley Reiff, who were blocking in the middle of the formation, had their assignments engage into them and then pull off immediately once the fake happens.
Steve McLendon pulled off Muhlbach and Cameron Heyward off of Reiff -- Reiff and Muhlbach ended up next to each other when Warford pulled across the line -- and ran at Martin, who was trying to squeeze through the line.
McLendon and Heyward appeared to hit Martin almost simultaneously 3 yards past the line of scrimmage and 2 yards behind the first down marker.
“I got hit by a 350-pound man,” Martin said. “I don't think I had the first down, but regardless, that guy made a great play. You have to give him credit. When you looked at initially, it was a big hole.”
Martin fumbled almost as soon as he was hit by McLendon and the ball squirted forward to the 3-yard line, where Clark recovered it.
In retrospect, with a day to think about it, Schwartz said he would not change his mind on the call. He would do it again.
And don't be surprised if he went for something similar again in the future. Schwartz has checks and calls for all special teams scenarios.
“I will say this. If we see something next week where we think we have an opportunity, we're not going to be afraid to do it,” Schwartz said. “I think that's got to be a mentality thing, you can't all of a sudden be conservative just cause a call didn't work.
“The reasoning behind it was good. I think the situation was good. I think we had an opportunity to really put a dagger in that game, make it an 11-point game at that point and we didn't get it done.”