Monday, November 16, 2009

Rethinking Belichick's call last night.

For those who didn't catch the end of the Colts-Patriots game last night, here's the recap from Yahoo! Sports:

Needing a first down to seal the game, Belichick decided to go for it on fourth-and-2 from his own 28 with 2:08 to go. The Patriots called their second timeout of the drive, leaving them with none, to set up the play: A short pass from Brady to Kevin Faulk(notes), something the 2007 NFL MVP had repeatedly used to burn Indy’s young, depleted pass defense all night.

Not this time.

Faulk made a juggling catch but safety Melvin Bullitt(notes), who replaced Bob Sanders(notes) in the lineup, came straight up the field and drove the Patriots running back into the ground a half-yard short of the marker.


The miss gave Manning 1 minute, 57 seconds and all three timeouts—an eternity for the three-time MVP—and he went right to work.

Manning hooked up with Wayne for 14 yards. He let Joseph Addai(notes) carry the ball for 13 yards, down to the Patriots 1. He sent Addai inside again on first-and-goal, the same play Addai scored on to win the 2006 AFC Championship game, but he got nothing. So Manning went back to Wayne in the end for the win.

The Pats got the ball back on the kickoff after that last TD with something like 9 seconds left, and the clock promptly ran out after one in-bounds completion by Brady.

After the game, play-by-play guy Al Michaels asked a couple of analysts about Belichick's decision -- former Colts coach Tony Dungy and someone else, whose name I forget. Both agreed that Belichick made a bad call, not punting on 4th & 2 from his own 28. I thought so too, at first, but re-thinking it, I think Belichick made the right call given the amount of time left in the game (just over 2 minutes). He probably figured that, if the Pats didn't convert, the Colts would likely score a TD -- but starting from his ~28 yard line, they'd score it quickly, leaving plenty of time for the Pats to get into range for a game winning field goal afterwords. And that's probably what would have happened had Pats defenders not stopped Colts RB Joseph Addai at the 1 yard line on his 13 yard run.


Homer315 said...

As a Patriots fan, I can say that I don't think that BB thought Manning would march down the field in 2 minutes and score, leaving the Patriots with not time left, while if he didn't make it, they would score quicker, giving the Patriots more time to re-take the lead. I think he simply said, we've been running/passing all over the Indy defense all game, we can get one yard, and if we do, the game's over.

Everyone seems to be glossing over the fact that the side judge made a terrible calling, claiming that Faulk was juggling the ball, and did not have complete control. This, even though the receiver had his back to the official, and replays showed that he merely double clutched (immediately) the football when he caught it, and did not juggle it the whole time he was going to the ground. That moron Al Michaels kept parroting "you see, he was juggling the ball" in the face of clearly contradictory visual evidence, thinking that of course the official must have made the right call.

BTW Dave, I never thought of it before, but if you're a Jets fan, well then...YOU SUCK! ;-)

DaveinHackensack said...

Nope, I'm a Giants fan.

Homer315 said...

Well, 2007 aside, that's not terrible.

Of course, that's also kind of like saying "Well, aside from that Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play?"

Anonymous said...

Perhaps after failing to make the conversion the Patriots should have not defended, allowing the Colts to score on their first play so they would have time to also score.

DaveinHackensack said...

Well, they certainly should have let Addai score instead of tackling him at the one, Anon. In fact, when I watched that play, I wondered if Addai was going to deliberately stop before the goal line, but he looked like he was clearly trying to score.

The White Detroiter said...

I can understand going for it on fourth down with only two yards to go. It is a lot like going for the two point conversion after a touchdown. For a team like the Patriots a two point conversion attempt is close to a 50-50 chance.

Actually, picking up at least a first down in the middle of the field would be easier than getting a two point conversion. On a two point conversion play the defense only has to defend up to 12 yards past the line of scrimmage and the worst case scenario is giving up two points. Going for it on fourth and two allows the offense attack the entire field and possibly gain a lot of yards or even score a touchdown.

In the 1996 Big 12 Championship Game underdog Texas took a similar risk against Nebraska and it paid off.

Up three with 2:40 remaining and unsure his defense could stop the Cornhuskers' option, Texas coach John Mackovic called "Roll Left" -- a goal-line play designed to allow Brown to run or throw -- on fourth-and-inches from the Texas 28-yard line.

"Before the game, Coach Mackovic said it would come down to one play," said Brown, now the quarterbacks coach for the nascent football program at Lamar University in his hometown of Beaumont, Texas.

Brown faked a handoff to Priest Holmes, and tailback Ricky Williams knocked down a Nebraska defender to open a running lane for Brown. But instead of running, Brown hit a wide-open Derek Lewis for a 61-yard gain.

Read more:

DaveinHackensack said...

Interesting, Detroiter. Another thought I had was about the defensive possibilities if you don't care if the other team scores quickly. You could blitz all 11 guys, or you could have all of your DBs go for the ball instead of covering the receivers.

adamneary said...

Belichick made the right call in my opinion. I am a Pats fan, so there's that, but I think that if you weigh the odds, it was the right call.

If the decision tree is punt or go for it:
- punt probably gives the colts a 70% chance of winning (peyton with 2:00?)
- go for it probably breaks 50% 1st down, 50% loss on downs
- if they get the 1st down, the pats have a 90% chance of winning
- if they turn over on downs, the colts have a 90% chance of winning

The weighted decision tree (IMHO) therefore scores "punt" at 70% colts win and scores "go for it" at 50% colts win. In fact, to justify punting, you'd really have to think that the Colts would have <50% chance of scoring a touchdown. And I think history says that's crazy.

Plus, Bill makes the call in real time? As usual, I have to hand it to him.

DaveinHackensack said...


I disagree that the odds were 90% in favor of the Colts winning if the Pats turned the ball over on downs. I agree that Bill made the right call in going for it, but he didn't make the right call afterwords: he should have coached his defense to let the Colts score early. Again, if Addai scores on his first run of that series, the Pats get the ball back with plenty of time to get in position for a game-winning field goal.

The Colts had a 90% chance of winning only if you assume they would have been able to drain the clock on that possession. As it happened, they did, but only really by accident: Addai wasn't coached to take a knee instead of scoring, and had the Pats not stopped him, he would have scored on that run.

As I mentioned above, had the Colts deliberately tried to avoid scoring too early, that would have opened up other possibilities for the defense (though in that case the odds of a Colts victory would have likely increased).