Bill Belichick, coach of the New England Patriots, was excoriated in post-game commentary for his game mis-management in a stunning loss to the Colts. The scene:
Here’s the situation: With the Patriots leading, 34-28, and 2:08 remaining, Coach Hoodie elected to go for a first down rather than punt when he faced fourth and 2 from his 28-yard line. Guess he was afraid of what Peyton Manning might do.
Tom Brady’s fourth-down pass to Kevin Faulk was complete but inches shy of the first down. So the Colts took over and went 29 yards in four easy plays, winning the game when Manning connected with Reggie Wayne on a laser-like 1-yard pass with an unlucky 13 seconds left on the clock.
The Times explains that based on league-average performances Belichick made the right call.
With 2:08 left and the Colts with only one timeout, a successful 4th-and-2 conversion wins the game for all practical purposes. A conversion on 4th-and-2 would be successful 60 percent of the time. Historically, in a situation with 2:00 left and needing a TD to either win or tie, teams get the TD 53 percent of the time from that field position. The total win probability for the 4th-down conversion attempt would therefore be:
(0.60 * 1) + (0.40 * (1-0.53)) = 0.79 WP (WP stands for win probability)
A punt from the 28 typically nets 38 yards, starting the Colts at their 34. Teams historically get the TD 30 percent of the time in that situation. So the punt gives the Pats about a 0.70 WP.
Statistically, the better decision would be to go for it, and by a good amount. However, these numbers are baselines for the league as a whole. You’d have to expect the Colts had a better than 30 percent chance of scoring from their 34, and an accordingly higher chance to score from the Pats’ 28. But any adjustment in their likelihood of scoring from either field position increases the advantage of going for it. You can play with the numbers any way you like, but it’s pretty hard to come up with a realistic combination of numbers that makes punting the better option. At best, you could make it a wash.
Betting that Tom Brady has enough pixie dust to keep the ball away from Peyton Manning and win the game shouldn't seem that daft, but it is very un-NFL.
UPDATE: Steve Sailer has more.
AND SPEAKING OF ODD FINALES: How about them Jets?
But for neutral observers, Sunday’s finishing sequence at Giants Stadium was both unorthodox and memorable. It included a Jets defense trying to allow a touchdown to give Jacksonville the lead and the Jaguars refusing to score it. And it had nothing to do with either team trying to lose.
Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew, one of the stars of the game, intentionally dropped to his knee before the end zone after a 9-yard gain to set up the winning field goal while running time off the clock.
Mindful of what some fans care about most, Jones-Drew said, “Tell my fantasy owners I’m sorry.”
He did it to run down the clock because the Jets had no timeouts and the Jaguars did not want the Jets to get the ball back after what was to be a 21-yard field goal by Josh Scobee.
What made it even stranger was the play before that. On first-and-10 from the Jets’ 14 with two minutes left, Jets Coach Rex Ryan told his defenders to let Jacksonville score. Ryan figured it would give the Jaguars a 6-point lead but leave his team time to take the ensuing kickoff and drive the field for a game-winning touchdown.
Because not all of his defenders got the message, Jones-Drew was tackled at the 10 by Marques Douglas and Sione Pouha after a 4-yard run.
“We couldn’t even get that right,” Ryan said.
That forced Ryan to use his last timeout. Jones-Drew dropped to a knee at the 1-yard line on the next play, and quarterback David Garrard knelt on the next two downs to waste more time and set up the winning kick.