Monday, November 16, 2009

The dumbest call in history? I don't think so...

That was a revolting performance last night by the Patriots. Fantastic through three quarters, awful in the fourth. And there are any number of plays that contribute to a loss, but the focus this morning is all on one decision by Bill Belichick. The Patriots went for it on 4th and 2 from their own 28 on the last play before the 2-minute warning, rather than punting. The histrionics in the media thus far, at least the ones that I've heard, are nothing if not predictable, and they're well over the top. "Indefensible" is about the mildest term applied thus far.

I thought it was the right decision. I thought so before the play, I thought so afterwards. "Belichick cost his team the game" is what I'm hearing on the radio, but I disagree. Strenuously. That assumes that a) the game would definitely have been won if they'd punted and the Colts had had to go 75 yards with two minutes and one timeout and b) the game could not possibly have been won when the Colts got the ball on the 29 yard line and c) the failure to convert the 4th down play was inevitable.

None of those are true.

  1. "The Patriots would definitely have won if they'd punted."

    How anyone who watched that game could think that escapes me. Yes, they had stopped the Colts several times. But the Patriot defense was obviously tiring, and two of Indianapolis last three drives had been touchdown drives of 79 yards in 2:04 or less. I had no confidence in the defense preventing a touchdown from being scored too late for the Patriots to respond.

  2. "The game was lost when they didn't make the first down."

    Actually, the game was lost when they tackled Joseph Addai at the one with a minute and a half left. If they'd let him score, they'd have gotten the ball back with more than a minute on the clock, needing only a field goal to win. They could have won the game by forcing a turnover, or keeping the Colts out of the end zone or letting them score with enough time to drive for another field goal. When the officials ruled that Faulk didn't make the first down, the Patriots still had a couple of ways to win. They win if the Colts don't score. They win if the Colts score quickly and the Patriots score another field goal. They only lose if Indianapolis scores a touchdown inside the last 40 seconds or so.

  3. "That play had no chance of succeeding."

    I thought it did. I still think it did. They couldn't challenge because they had no timeouts, and there's probably not a conclusive angle anyway, but I believe that Faulk had control of the ball at the 30, which is a first down.

Let's make a couple of assumptions. Let's assume that the Patriots had a 90% chance of winning the game if they convert the first down. Let's assume that the Patriots had a 90% chance of losing if they fail to convert. And let's assume that they've got about a 63% chance of converting1. If those are accurate, then going for it on fourth down gives them a slightly better than 60% chance of winning the game.

Whether the decision makes sense depends entirely on your entirely subjective assessment of the odds of stopping the Colts after punting. If you think that Manning and the Colts, at that time, on that field, against that defense, had a 45% chance or better of going 75 yards in two minutes to win the game, then you go for it on fourth down, because that gives you the best chance of winning the game. Period. If you think it's 35% or less, then you punt.

I had no problem with the decision. No problem whatsoever. I think he gave his team the best chance to win. And the talk about it being an "indefensible" call, about the coach having cost his team the game, is overheated, hyperbolic and just plain silly.

1 - 63% is apparently their conversion percentage on 4th and 2 or less in the Brady-Belichick era.

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