FanDuel - WFBC

November 16, 2009

Belichick Call Questioned in Pats' Loss to Colts: With 2:08 remaining in the game, a six-point lead and the New England Patriots on their own 28, coach Bill Belichick went for the first down on fourth-and-2. The Indianapolis Colts held and scored a touchdown in the 35-34 win. "As a former defender on that team, I would've cared less about the result of that fourth-down attempt," writes Tedy Bruschi for ESPNBoston.Com. "The decision to go for it would be enough to make my blood boil for weeks."

posted by rcade to football at 09:22 AM - 88 comments

Going for 4th and 2 on your own 28 yard line with two minutes left and a six point lead may be the single stupidest call I've ever witnessed. Bill Bellichek should be taken out behind a shed and shot.

posted by dfleming at 11:41 PM on November 15

Didn't Barry Switzer do the same thing back in the 90's when he was coaching the Cowboys?

posted by cjets at 12:37 AM on November 16

Going for 4th and 2 on your own 28 yard line with two minutes left and a six point lead may be the single stupidest call I've ever witnessed. Bill Bellichek should be taken out behind a shed and shot.

Slight overreaction, me thinks.

Maybe Belichick saw something in the Colts practice tapes that lead him to belive they could get the 1st down.

posted by tommytrump at 01:17 AM on November 16

Didn't Barry Switzer do the same thing back in the 90's when he was coaching the Cowboys?

Yes.

posted by tommytrump at 01:17 AM on November 16

Maybe Belichick saw something in the Colts practice tapes that lead him to belive they could get the 1st down

Really?
Oh, sure, they thought they could run a quick slant pattern for three yards, surely the defense will be playing loose in that situation.

Whatever Belichick thought he could get away with, he was proven wrong. When the play works he's a hero, when it doesn't he's a goat.
In this particular situation, 99.9% of the time it makes sense to punt. Too big of a risk if you don't make it. Sad that he didn't have more confidence in his defense. Then again, the Colts went the 30 yards with no problem, so maybe another 40-50 yards wouldn't have mattered.

posted by dviking at 02:04 AM on November 16

What the hell was Bill Belichick thinking last night?

posted by Joey Michaels at 06:45 AM on November 16

I think he was thinking the defense had been sucking for a long time, and giving the ball back to Indy meant a long drive, points scored and no time left.

So, you go for it on 4th, either you win the game or maybe Indy scores quickly and you have a chance to score again (they'd only need a field goal.)

I'm not saying it was good thinking, but I am guessing that's what he was thinking. Why they called those two timeouts though, was baffling.

posted by fabulon7 at 08:52 AM on November 16

What fabulon said. Belichick trusted his offense more than his defense.

posted by curlyelk at 08:59 AM on November 16

I look at it this way: 2 yards and he wins the game. No speculation, no worrying about Manning marching down the field, no drama. Just 2 yards, and Indy doesn't get the ball back. The play was there, but the ball was not caught clean. I can't fault him for trying for the sure win. Now, would I have had the balls to try that? Hell no.

posted by smithnyiu at 08:59 AM on November 16

What the hell was Bill Belichick thinking last night?

I remember when Barry Switzer did a similar thing against Philly, I believe. To think that Bill made a Barry Switzeresque call?

posted by bdaddy at 09:22 AM on November 16

Barry Switzer's failed fourth-down call was widely described as the end of the Cowboys' season that year. He called the same Emmitt Smith running play three straight times in a game against Philly. The Eagles held and won the game, and I vividly recall local sportsradio icon Norm Hitzges declaring that the team's chances for another Super Bowl were over. They rallied together and went on to beat the Steelers in the bowl for Switzer's only ring.

posted by rcade at 09:28 AM on November 16

I thought it showed that Belichick and the Pats were scared of Manning. He had zero faith that the Pats defense could stop him from going a long field and scoring with just over two minutes left. Embarrassing.

posted by bperk at 09:31 AM on November 16

It's "embarrassing" to be afraid of a Hall of Fame quarterback who's come back on you before? The Colts no-huddle offense is designed to wear a defense down over the course of a game and it did. The second half of that game was a horror show for a Pats fan, having seen this all a number of times before. I'm a card-carrying member of the Belichick Kool-Aid Drinkers Society and a big believer in going for it on 4th down and even I was left shaking my head, but it's not like the play was a complete bust. Also:

"However, if you look at the math, the Pats' head coach appears to have made the correct decision." ([via])

I'm still not sure I buy it, because 70 yards is a lot hard than 30, but to suggest Belichick's decision is indefensible is silly.

posted by yerfatma at 09:56 AM on November 16

Another thing should probably be pointed out here: the Patriots' completely mis-managed their timeouts, which prevented them from being able to challenge the play. I'm not certain that the spot might not have been changed in their favor had it been reviewed. So that would be a rare double-bungle on Belichick's part.

posted by TheQatarian at 10:06 AM on November 16

Although I think Bellicheat is evil, I do respect him putting trust in his team's strength to finish the game. If they make the play, game is over. If he punts there's a better chance Indy drives 80 yards again and wins.

posted by cixelsyd at 10:07 AM on November 16

I'm still not sure I buy it, because 70 yards is a lot hard than 30, but to suggest Belichick's decision is indefensible is silly.

I agree. I reacted really badly to it last night but I realized that, in certain situations, that might be the best move.

I don't think last night was that situation.

As much as Peyton had shredded the Patriots in the fourth quarter, they picked him off twice, once in the fourth quarter which seemed to seal their fate. The Colts scored against the prevent defense, something that seems to happen so often nowadays that the prevent defense ought to go the way of the dodo bird. It was far from a certainty that he could march the field and score at will.

Plus, you gotta think that a guy like Manning is going to manage the clock down the stretch and not just quick strike and let Brady get the ball back. He's been in the league way too long for that. He did exactly what I thought he would; ran short plays, bought time, scored with almost zero time left.

If I was a defensive player waking up today, I'd be feeling a whole lot of resentment towards my coach. They, for the better part of three quarters, had the Colt offense under control. If Maroney doesn't fumble on the one yard line, if Brady doesn't get picked off in end zone, the game is over. Why, exactly, was the confidence in the offense, who had blown several chances to put the game away earlier and failed?

posted by dfleming at 10:10 AM on November 16

I didn't watch the end of the game -- I listened while I was falling asleep -- but it seems like an extremely dumb decision to me. You can't give a Hall of Fame quarterback two minutes and a short field to beat you.

posted by rcade at 10:23 AM on November 16

Belichick's call was almost certainly the correct one. 70% of the time, teams will convert 4th and 2. If they convert, they win. Puntthe ball back to the Colts, and you have a smaller chance of winning.

Coaches almost never make a mistake by going for it on 4th down because they do it so rarely. They make the mistake of punting instead of going for it lots of times, mostly because they know that's the "safe" thing to do and they won't be criticized for it.

posted by spira at 10:31 AM on November 16

I didn't watch the end of the game . . . but it seems like an extremely dumb decision to me.

Watching the end of the game, the one thing that was clear was the Pats defense was shot.

the Patriots' completely mis-managed their timeouts, which prevented them from being able to challenge the play

Yes. That was the real killer as a Pats fan. It wasn't even so much the Patriots were out-coached as they beat themselves, when it's always been their hallmark that they don't do that. I don't think the refs would overturn that call, but it would have been nice to find out.

Joe Posnanski has more on the math behind the decision and the timeout thing:

"So I think Belichick coached lousy the last two minutes. But I also think the go-for-it call was vintage Bill Belichick. Sure, you could argue that, as it turned out, the call changed the whole dynamic of the Patriots"

posted by yerfatma at 10:38 AM on November 16

Belichick's call was almost certainly the correct one. 70% of the time, teams will convert 4th and 2. If they convert, they win. Puntthe ball back to the Colts, and you have a smaller chance of winning.

The Colts, to that point, had scored touchdowns on 4/14 drives, or 28.6% of the times they held the ball. Only one drive was less than two minutes in length. I understand that letting Peyton have the ball back is a scary thing, but statistically, they were more likely to stop him than not from 70 yards out.

posted by dfleming at 10:44 AM on November 16

Belichick's call was almost certainly the correct one. 70% of the time, teams will convert 4th and 2. If they convert, they win. Puntthe ball back to the Colts, and you have a smaller chance of winning.

That's only true if Peyton Manning fails to lead his team to a touchdown more than 30 percent of the time inside the opponents 30 with around two minutes left.

The Colts over the last five seasons have scored touchdowns 60 percent of the time in the red zone and scored at least a field goal 72 percent of the time. They have the second-best red zone efficiency in the league over that span.

Given the circumstances in which it took a TD to win, I think it's easily possible that the Colts had more than a 70 percent chance to score one in that situation.

posted by rcade at 10:48 AM on November 16

Here is a point that I think needs to be made, they should have let Addai score with around 1:11 left he got down to to the two and was tackled. This is in sharp contrast to the Jones-Drew play where he wisely went down short of the goal line to allow the clock to run down. I am surprised it hasn't been mentioned here and wonder what you all think.

posted by soocher at 10:51 AM on November 16

Teams convert 4th and 2 70% of the time? Is that one of those made-up statistics? I would think it would be a much lower percentage, even for the Pats.

posted by curlyelk at 10:57 AM on November 16

Another thing should probably be pointed out here: the Patriots' completely mis-managed their timeouts, which prevented them from being able to challenge the play. I'm not certain that the spot might not have been changed in their favor had it been reviewed. So that would be a rare double-bungle on Belichick's part.

I don't know the exact verbiage of the rule, but it seems to me that the play should have been called for review by the booth. Even though the play happened prior to the two minute warning, the clock was stopped for the two minute warning right after the play and before another play was run. If review of plays is at the discretion of the refs inside of two minutes, it seems obvious to me that this play should not have required a challenge from the Patriots.

All of that said, I believe the initial call was correct.

posted by bender at 11:06 AM on November 16

I think the instant replay rules calls for booth replay based on when the play starts not when it ends. So, the play has to start after the two minute warning to be eligible for the booth review.

posted by bperk at 11:17 AM on November 16

That's only true if Peyton Manning fails to lead his team to a touchdown more than 30 percent of the time inside the opponents 30 with around two minutes left.

You've got that turned around, I think. The two options are to go for it (which has a certain success rate; the failure is implied) or to punt.

"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)"

If nothing else, BB kept the spotlight off Laurence Maroney and his fumble in the end zone.

posted by yerfatma at 11:28 AM on November 16

Terrible call, but the game never should have come down to that. All along there were bad play calls & clock management decisions. When your run is working well enough (between Maroney and Faulk), why have drives where you go all-pass and 3-and-out? They had a lead that was their's to blow.

This used to be a NE specialty - build a lead, and grind out the clock on the ground. Watching BillB this season and last (despite what he did with Matt Cassel), I'm thinking that Crennel & Weis had a lot more to do with the Pats success than they get credit for (even though the two of them have been disappointing as head coaches).

posted by kokaku at 11:28 AM on November 16

I'm thinking that Crennel & Weis had a lot more to do with the Pats success than they get credit for (even though the two of them have been disappointing as head coaches).

I wholeheartedly agree. They may not have been able to put it together on their own but it looks like the Patriots were a braintrust, not a mastermind and his minions.

posted by dfleming at 11:50 AM on November 16

You've got that turned around, I think.

Maybe I'm explaining it poorly, but I don't think so. If the Pats had a 70 percent chance of converting on 4th-and-2, that's only a smart play if Peyton Manning had a less than 70 percent chance of scoring from their 28.

I don't think the number crunching gives a clear answer that Belichick was right to go for it. Most coaches would never do that in the same situation. I think most coaches are right, and the outcome of this game lends support to that position.

posted by rcade at 11:53 AM on November 16

I was watching the game live and I said, at the time, if Peyton gets the ball back, he's gonna win. So I can understand what Belichick was thinking.

But I still think you have to punt. The Colts still have to play flawless football to drive 70 - 80 yards for a TD in 2 minutes with only one timeout. If Belichick doesn't trust his defense to do that, that sends a major message to his defense.

I don't think the number crunching gives a clear answer that Belichick was right to go for it. Most coaches would never do that in the same situation. I think most coaches are right, and the outcome of this game lends support to that position.

Yes. When you go against NFL SOP and you fail, you are going to hear some major criticism. Had the Colts driven 70 - 80 yards to score a TD, I can't imagine anyone criticizing Belichick for not going for it on 4th.

posted by cjets at 12:13 PM on November 16

As mentioned before, not only was the Pats' defense shot, but specifically, their run defense was really shot. On the other hand, Addai was fairly fresh, having been held out of most of the game.

Manning was in a position where he could throw to holes in the soft defense, or let Addai rip off sizeable gains.

If the Pats had punted away, Peyton could have used a lot more of the playbook to get down the field, provided that they mixed in some running plays that were designed to go out of bounds for clock stoppage if needed.

Somewhere in the Pats' sideline state of mind, the memory of their second half collapse on the road against Indy in the AFC title game a few years back had to be a factor one way or another. After last night, that factor is now twice as big a deal.

posted by beaverboard at 12:20 PM on November 16

As a Colts fan, I'll say this: When Brady's third-down pass fell incomplete, I thought the Colts had the game in the bag: the Pats would punt, and the offense, with 2 minutes and one time out left, had a pretty good shot of getting the TD--because I've seen them do it so many times before.

When Belichick decided to go for it, then I got worried.

For the people crunching the numbers, I think they should look not (well, at least not only) at how well the Colts offense had fared that game, but also at how well the Colts offense fares running the two-minute drill on a long field when they need a touchdown, in general. You may want to revise your estimated probability of the Colts going 70-80 yards in two minutes upwards from the 29% you get from looking at this game alone.

Belichick's call said he thought highly of both the Patriots offense (to convert it) and the Colts offense (to get a TD on a long field in two minutes), and not so highly of the Patriots defense (to stop the Colts on a long field) nor of the Colts defense (to stop the conversion). In a game where the two teams had combined for 62 points so far, is that really so absurd?

posted by DevilsAdvocate at 12:22 PM on November 16

Maybe I'm explaining it poorly, but I don't think so.

No, I follow you, but I think you're making the same logical error that makes the Monty Hall Problem so much fun. Here's a better response to just what you're asking:

"You'd have to expect the Colts had a better than a 30% 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."

When you go against NFL SOP and you fail, you are going to hear some major criticism.

That's what I'm trying to remind myself. TMQ talks about that all the time, the Gentleman's Failure of kicking a field goal when down by 20 late in the game, the sort of logic that keeps bad baseball teams bad year after year as they sign up people who used to be good. I'm telling myself this is just the price you pay for having a coach bright enough to buck Common Wisdom.

It's not helping. </thread_managing>

posted by yerfatma at 12:27 PM on November 16

So Belichick either wins the game with the fourth-down conversion or he's a daring mastermind who bucked conventional wisdom. Bah humbug. If Eric Mangini makes that same decision the response would be merciless.

posted by rcade at 12:37 PM on November 16

I don't think the number crunching gives a clear answer that Belichick was right to go for it. Most coaches would never do that in the same situation. I think most coaches are right, and the outcome of this game lends support to that position.

Most coaches would never do that because convention states that you shouldn't and because if you fail your decisions are scutinzed mercilessly on Sportsfilter. The numbers don't bear out convention but it's hard to change. If it were conventionial to go for it on fourth down as much as the stats say you should, this decision would be the norm and it would just be a tough loss.

This game certainly lends support to conventional wisdom but how many late game drives for touchdowns are there on a weekly basis when the conventional strategy fails and we just don't notice because it's the norm?

posted by tron7 at 12:38 PM on November 16

"However, if you look at the math, the Pats' head coach appears to have made the correct decision."

The math is flawed. The stat given is 66% success rate for 4th and 2 yards or less. However, if you break that down, you will discover that 4th and 2 yards is undoubtedly much more difficult to achieve than 4th and 2 inches. It's a bogus stat.

posted by phreakydancin at 12:38 PM on November 16

"The Colts, to that point, had scored touchdowns on 4/14 drives, or 28.6% of the times they held the ball. Only one drive was less than two minutes in length. I understand that letting Peyton have the ball back is a scary thing, but statistically, they were more likely to stop him than not from 70 yards out."

You're assuming that all drives are equal. The previous drive before the 4th and 2 was the sub two minute drive, and it was obvious watching it that the Patriots' defense was gassed.

posted by aerotive at 12:45 PM on November 16

This game certainly lends support to conventional wisdom but how many late game drives for touchdowns are there on a weekly basis when the conventional strategy fails and we just don't notice because it's the norm?

Surely TMQ will be all over this decision tomorrow. Any predictions on what he'll say?

posted by rcade at 01:06 PM on November 16

If I wasn't an economist I'd be annoyed by the all this stats talk, but fortunately I am an economist and it's keeping me interested in a sport than long ago started boring my tits clean off.

posted by JJ at 01:08 PM on November 16

Anyone who says it's a bad call doesn't understand football.

posted by igottheblues at 01:16 PM on November 16

If you're going to go for it on 4th-and-2, how about running a pattern that's deeper than 2-1/2 yards?

posted by kirkaracha at 01:17 PM on November 16

If you're going to go for it on 4th-and-2, how about running a pattern that's deeper than 2-1/2 yards?

I thought the same thing. Judging by the way things were lined up, it looked like Randy Moss was going to be 1 on 1 with a rookie corner. Take him downfield.

posted by dfleming at 01:18 PM on November 16

This game certainly lends support to conventional wisdom but how many late game drives for touchdowns are there on a weekly basis when the conventional strategy fails and we just don't notice because it's the norm?

I still disagree with the decision to go for it on 4th and 2 on the 28 yard line, but I do believe that coaches get way to much credit for making the perceived "safe" decision when it comes to kicking on 4th down. In a lot of situations involving 4th down around midfield or near the goal line, the reward for trying to pick up the first down mitigates the risk of turning the ball over. This wasn't one of them (at least in my opinion), but it has sparked this statistical analysis of this type of play, and I, for one, do like that. If the Patriots are in the same situation except that instead of the 28 yard line they are on their 48, could this decision be the right one. I think it could. Maybe this will help a few coaches to grow a pair and make some decisions to win games rather than to not lose.

If you're going to go for it on 4th-and-2, how about running a pattern that's deeper than 2-1/2 yards?

There was nothing wrong with the call. If the ball was caught cleanly, it's a first down and New England wins. Why should they have run a deeper play?

posted by bender at 01:45 PM on November 16

If I was a defensive player waking up today, I'd be feeling a whole lot of resentment towards my coach. They, for the better part of three quarters, had the Colt offense under control. If Maroney doesn't fumble on the one yard line, if Brady doesn't get picked off in end zone, the game is over. Why, exactly, was the confidence in the offense, who had blown several chances to put the game away earlier and failed?

I hope the NE defense isn't as inclined to search for personal slights as a lot of fans are, because the decision wasn't a statement of "our offense rules, our defense sucks." It had nothing to do with plays made fifteen minutes earlier, that's water over the dam. It was a judgment call that the offense, right then, was more likely to make one play and convert, than that the defense right then would be able to keep the Colts out of the end zone with over 2 minutes on the clock, starting from whatever field position special teams allowed him to start with (yerfatma's hypothetical 70 yards is just that -- a good estimate, but the punting team wasn't exactly 100% consistent yesterday either). And look at what did happen: the ball got turned over, and the defense simply got shoved right back into the endzone. The Colts got the ball on the 29 and went 15 yards, 13 yards, no gain and then in. Given the ease with which they did it, 40 additional yards doesn't seem like much of a safety margin.

In summary, you can perhaps make a valid statement that in general, punting when you're at 4th and 2 on your own 29 with two minutes to play makes more sense than going for it. That doesn't mean it makes more sense in a real live game.

posted by lil_brown_bat at 01:47 PM on November 16

To much math for a football game conversation.

87% of stats are made up on the spot

That being said, You have to do everything in your power to keep Manning on the sidelines. Was it an unusual call yes. Was it a bad call, maybe, but this is not Jason Campbell at QB. Manning has done the last drive thing to many times to too many teams. If it takes a crazy call to keep him off the field, go for it.

Watching the game, Billy B obviously had more faith in his "O" then his "D". Can you blame him. If he hits the first down, He is the evil genius with mind control.

posted by Debo270 at 01:58 PM on November 16

If they'd run a four- or five-yard pattern instead of a 2-1/2 yard pattern, they would've won even if the receiver had bobbled the ball before catching it. Instead they called a play that had the receiver just barely over the line and moving backwards. It was too dependent on a clean catch and on the spot.

posted by kirkaracha at 01:59 PM on November 16

In regard to all the stat talk, please bear in mind that most of those stats are almost meaningless.

To lump in %'s that are based on how effective all teams have been on 4th and 2 in all situations is to give way too much emphasis on how the Pttsburgh Steelers did against the Chiefs last year. You have to look at how effective teams similar to the Pats have been against teams similar to the Colts on 4th and two, this year, with the game on the line. Anything else is misleading. I realize that diminishes the pool of comparable plays, but it does make it more realistic, and I would bet that the resulting % of success would be far less than the 30% some of you have quoted. (bearing in mind that 87.4% of all stats are made up on the fly)

As to the route being deep enough, it was with a clean catch, however, in hind sight it's obvious that a route a yard deeper would have been a better choice.

posted by dviking at 02:02 PM on November 16

If you're going to go for it on 4th-and-2, how about running a pattern that's deeper than 2-1/2 yards?

Agreed .. the call to go seemed legit, the actual play called and route they threw to is a head scratcher.

posted by cixelsyd at 02:25 PM on November 16

Agreed .. the call to go seemed legit, the actual play called and route they threw to is a head scratcher.

That's my point exactly. At least go for five yards. Jeez.

posted by Joey Michaels at 02:30 PM on November 16

As a former coach, The slant pattern if run correctly is the hardest pass to defend and should almost always give you the needed yardage. The Colt defender made a hell of a stop

posted by Debo270 at 02:50 PM on November 16

If they'd run a four- or five-yard pattern instead of a 2-1/2 yard pattern, they would've won even if the receiver had bobbled the ball before catching it

it looked like Randy Moss was going to be 1 on 1 with a rookie corner.

in hind sight it's obvious that a route a yard deeper would have been a better choice.

This all assumes a couple of things:

1. The route wasn't designed in light of the coverage they saw. How can you be so sure that route would be open if it were 2 yards deeper? What coverage was Indy in that you know that?

2. Faulk was the primary receiver. I don't know what the play was, but based on watching the Pats, I'd assume Faulk was a checkdown.

is to give way too much emphasis on how the Pttsburgh Steelers did against the Chiefs last year. You have to look at how effective teams similar to the Pats have been against teams similar to the Colts on 4th and two . . . I realize that diminishes the pool of comparable plays, but it does make it more realistic

How does it make it more "realistic" if your sample size is 1? Or 2? Or 3? The idea of taking a large data set is that it dampens the effect of random chance. Your group of "truly similar" plays could consist entirely of games played in the snow, plays where a cornerback slipped, a time when someone's shoe was untied, etc. There's a reason the Law of Large Numbers is part of probability theory and This One Really Similar Play is not.

posted by yerfatma at 02:56 PM on November 16

...the best point of comparison may be Belichick himself earlier this season.

Against Atlanta on Sept. 27, Belichick went for it on fourth-and-1 from his own 24-yard line. The Patriots converted. Belichick was hailed for his you-play-to-win-the-game moxie. And in his postgame comments, he sounded strikingly the way he did Sunday night, if a lot more jovial.

Thought this was an interesting point brought up in a NY Times article

posted by opel70 at 03:33 PM on November 16

Hey, if nothing else ... the results of that call showed during the post game interviews last night ... just how classy a guy Tom Brady is. Despite the reporters' best efforts, Brady refused to throw his coach under the bus and instead reminded everyone about all the good things the coach has accomplished for his team's players and his team's fans.

Good on you Thomas!

PS - I suspect if the Patriot's center had already recovered from his recent knee injury, this game wouldn't even have been close. As it was, Indy was wrongfooting and blitzing Brady through the center of the line all night.

posted by Plaintruth at 03:34 PM on November 16

My earlier attempt to grok the percentages here was too simple, as Yerfatma suggested. You can't just compare the Pats chance to convert vs. the Colts chance to get a TD. A site called Advanced NFL Stats offers this breakdown of why Belichick was right:

With 2:00 left and the Colts with only one timeout, a successful conversion wins the game for all practical purposes. A 4th and 2 conversion would be successful 60% 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% of the time from that field position. The total WP for the 4th down conversion attempt would therefore be:

(0.60 * 1) + (0.40 * (1-0.53)) = 0.79 WP

A punt from the 28 typically nets 38 yards, starting the Colts at their own 34. Teams historically get the TD 30% 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.

Looking at this, I'm beginning to think that Malcolm Gladwell would have gone for it.

posted by rcade at 03:38 PM on November 16

but, again, you're adding in the odds that Pittsburgh could convert the 4th and 2 against the Chiefs into the equation. I personally doubt the Pats would convert that play 60% of the time against the Colts in this situation.

No way to prove it, so it comes down to gut decision.

posted by dviking at 03:50 PM on November 16

No way to prove it, so it comes down to gut decision.

That's one way of thinking about things like this, and it will always be used as a rationalization by people who favor gut checks instead of looking at the numbers.

But if the question we're asking here is whether Belichick was playing the percentages correctly, the more data considered, the more likely it will be right.

The reason coaches punt on 4th-and-2 at their own end with time running out is that they believe the percentages are in their favor. Belichick's actions raise a good question -- what if coaches are wrong about that? We've seen a lot of recent examples in sport where number-crunchers succeed by challenging conventional wisdom. Particularly in baseball.

posted by rcade at 03:56 PM on November 16

A site called Advanced NFL Stats offers this breakdown of why Belichick was right

You credit-stealin' sumbitch

posted by yerfatma at 04:02 PM on November 16

I got carried away reading your Monty Hall link and didn't check the second one, then found it myself in Google.

posted by rcade at 04:05 PM on November 16

Since Gostowski had been consistently kicking in excess of 70 yards all night, why not take an intentional safety and the resulting free kick from the 20? You would still be ahead by 4, and barring a runback of more than 25 yards, the Colts are still back around the 30. Agreed that it might have been difficult for the punter to get to the end zone before being tackled, but he could always have thrown the ball out when feeling contact. It is still safer than a punt, that could be blocked, shanked, or run back. I believe Belichick was correct in his decision. I also believe that the call of "bobbling" on the first down attempt was very creative.

posted by Howard_T at 04:26 PM on November 16

but, again, you're adding in the odds that Pittsburgh could convert the 4th and 2 against the Chiefs into the equation. I personally doubt the Pats would convert that play 60% of the time against the Colts in this situation.

But you are also adding in the odds whether the Chiefs (or Raiders or whoever) could convert against the Steelers (or Ravens or whoever), which is presumably lower than 60%. Fact is, the Patriots offense is much better than average, with a top three QB and two very good passing-game weapons in Moss and Welker plus another (Faulk) who excels in short-yardage situations. The Indy defense is above average, but not elite, and is missing two key pieces of the secondary as a result of injuries in the past few weeks. So, overall, I would say the 60% number is either a n on-target approximation or perhaps even a bit low.

I also believe that the call of "bobbling" on the first down attempt was very creative.

It appeared to me pretty clear that Faulk bobbled the ball; what was not clear was whether he really failed to establish possession after the bobble at or past the 30. It seemed to me he had possession at the 30, but I doubt it would have been overturned on replay (it appeared inconclusive on NBC's replays at least).

posted by holden at 04:29 PM on November 16

Hey, if nothing else ... the results of that call showed during the post game interviews last night ... just how classy a guy Tom Brady is.

Not a big Pats fan, but you are dead on. More than just class, it's leadership, and another indication of why Brady is as successful as he is.

Also is the main reason why guys like Romo can't bring success to a team with equal or possibly superior talent. Players who don't shoulder responsibility are not leaders.

posted by cixelsyd at 04:44 PM on November 16

When has Tony Romo ever refused to shoulder responsibility in a loss?

posted by rcade at 04:59 PM on November 16

Atlanta on Sept. 27, Belichick went for it on fourth-and-1 from his own 24-yard line

That was in the third quarter, against the Falcons, with a six-point lead. Plenty of time to recover if you don't make it.

posted by kirkaracha at 05:11 PM on November 16

Most coaches would never do that in the same situation. I think most coaches are right, and the outcome of this game lends support to that position.

I disagree with these assumptions, but ignoring the second:

Obviously coaches are on the sidelines and I'm sitting on my ass writing this for a reason, but looking at this one play I'm not sure 'most coaches would punt' means much of anything. Look at baseball. Coaches and players for years hung to theories and ideas that have been blown out of the water by fans/statisticians. Old assumptions made with nothing more than a gut feeling die hard. And what coaches considered important statistics in the 50s in judging players have gone by the wayside.

If the Yankees are ahead 3-0 in the bottom of the seventh and the home team has the bases loaded with the middle of the line-up coming up, it makes perfect sense to bring Rivera in. The game is on the line at that moment. Waiting until you possibly, might get in trouble in the 9th doesn't make sense. But if Rivera fails, or the Yankees do lose it in the 9th, people will freak. That doesn't make it the wrong call. But it certainly takes guts, and not many managers are going to risk it, because if you lose in the 9th with Rivera on the hill, you are safe. You did what managers have been doing for 30 years.

Joe Posnanski has more on the math behind the decision and the timeout thing

Reading his column this morning I, as usual, found myself agreeing. I'm not saying it's the right call. I'm not that smart. But I can certainly see why he made the call, and I can see why he thought it was the right call, and I don't understand how anyone can be so sure it was the wrong call. The execution of the play was lacking.

posted by justgary at 05:33 PM on November 16

It was the wrong call by Belichick, with hindsight in everyone's favor after the fact. Punting probably would be the smart call, even though Manning, with that much time left and three time outs at his disposal, could cover the entire field practically with his eyes closed. Yes I do think Belichick felt they couldn't stop Manning. Or Reggie Wayne. But I'm certainly not someone who is in a position to second-guess someone like Bill Belichick. His success in the NFL, along with his championships, show me enough to easily give him a pass on this one. He's the guy who has to make the final call, at that moment, in front of the world. It didn't work. I'm sure armchair quarterbacks like us are debating it way, WAY more than Bill Belichick is at this moment. He doesn't have the luxury of fixating on a game that's over. Plus, as was mentioned a few times above, if they convert that fourth down, he's seen as a genius one more time (for about the 752,000 time in his coaching career).

posted by dyams at 05:58 PM on November 16

"Here is a point that I think needs to be made, they should have let Addai score with around 1:11 left he got down to to the two and was tackled..."

Soocher, I made that comment to my wife while we were watching the game. She actually looked at me weird for saying that they should have let Addai score, but I thought it made perfect sense. 1 minute plus would have been plenty of time for Brady to get the team into field goal range, even if it had been a touch back or (gulp) downed inside the 5. I think Gostkowski has a lot stronger leg than what Belicheck lets him do and think he could have easily nailed it up to 55-60 yards out in that stadium.

posted by crqri at 06:32 PM on November 16

When has Tony Romo ever refused to shoulder responsibility in a loss?

posted by rcade at 04:59 PM on November 16


I just hope Romo is complaining to the jerk that has obviously told him to get the ball to Williams more. Williams needs to be benched.

posted by kerrycindy at 07:27 PM on November 16

When has Tony Romo ever refused to shoulder responsibility in a loss?

Are you serious? or possibly just a die hard Cowboys Fan?

Obvious example ... Philly trounces Dallas, greatly aided by Romo's 4 or 5 turnovers. Romo takes the high road and blames the coaching staff and play calling. Not saying that Wade Phillips is in line to be the next Bill Walsh, but still shows a lack of leadership on Romo's part.

posted by cixelsyd at 07:39 PM on November 16

You don't know what you're talking about. Romo didn't trash the coaches or play calling after that 44-6 loss last year, and I can't recall ever hearing him do it. You've said that a few times here, but absent a source, I think it's BS. If Romo had criticized the playcalling in a game the Cowboys lost by 38 points, it would have been widely ridiculed.

posted by rcade at 08:08 PM on November 16

It was the wrong call by Belichick, with hindsight in everyone's favor after the fact.

Okay.

But I'm certainly not someone who is in a position to second-guess someone like Bill Belichick.

What?

I don't agree that because it didn't work it's not the right call. Maybe punting is the right call. If it's returned for a touchdown that doesn't make it wrong. The coach can only call the play. The players have to make it happen.

posted by justgary at 08:53 PM on November 16

But I'm certainly not someone who is in a position to second-guess someone like Bill Belichick.

Dude, of course you are. We all are. We're sports fans. Its our job to second-guess Bill Belichick. Otherwise, we're merely "sports aficionados."

posted by Joey Michaels at 09:08 PM on November 16

it would have been widely ridiculed

It was reported, hence my ridicule.

You don't think I know what I'm talking about, I believe you are a fan of the team and see the QB in a different light - we all have our opinions.

posted by cixelsyd at 09:26 PM on November 16

You don't know what you're talking about. Romo didn't trash the coaches or play calling after that 44-6 loss last year, and I can't recall ever hearing him do it. You've said that a few times here, but absent a source, I think it's BS. If Romo had criticized the playcalling in a game the Cowboys lost by 38 points, it would have been widely ridiculed.

Owens, Romo Point Finger at Garrett for Failed Offensive

See also here and here.

posted by holden at 09:31 PM on November 16

holden - thanks for posting those, a few of the more obvious examples.

rcade - does that meet your criteria for ridicule?

posted by cixelsyd at 10:12 PM on November 16

Since Gostowski had been consistently kicking in excess of 70 yards all night, why not take an intentional safety and the resulting free kick from the 20?

That's an interesting and creative solution...but can you actually do that? I'm just asking because it occurs to me that the NFL, which will penalize a quarterback for throwing away the football, might have some obscure rule in place just for a ploy like this.

posted by lil_brown_bat at 10:55 PM on November 16

A team can take a safety if they want, although not very common, it does happen.

No way to prove it, so it comes down to gut decision.

That's one way of thinking about things like this, and it will always be used as a rationalization by people who favor gut checks instead of looking at the numbers.

rcade, my point was this, since the statisical data that you cite is not tied to analysis of Pats/Colts games, it has a certain degree of error built into it. And, even if I buy that 60% of the time the Pats would convert that play against the Colts in that situation (I don't, but that's not the point) it would still be a gut check to actually call that play. It didn't work last night, but the odds never said it would work 100% of the time, thus the gut check.

posted by dviking at 11:28 PM on November 16

As a former coach, The slant pattern if run correctly is the hardest pass to defend and should almost always give you the needed yardage. The Colt defender made a hell of a stop

Someone please correct me if I'm wrong, but as a former coach wouldn't you know that Faulk gave a quick fake of a slant but ran a quick out?

To those suggesting deeper routes - in theory I love the idea of just floating one deeper to Moss, but the Colts blitzed 6 (which I hated at first but now appreciate) and Brady honestly didn't have any more time to throw. Another half yard on that route would've given them some margin for error in the catch/spot but there really wasn't time to get any deeper.

posted by Bernreuther at 01:58 AM on November 17

rcade, my point was this, since the statisical data that you cite is not tied to analysis of Pats/Colts games, it has a certain degree of error built into it.

The Pats and Colts don't play each other often enough to get the kind of statistical data we're talking about. How many times have they gone for it on fourth and 2 against each other? How many times have they given the other team a chance to win with a drive that began near the red zone? That's not statistics, it's anecdotes.

Belichick is getting hammered for making the wrong move. Jon Gruden on MNF last night was one of the only big names I heard who was unequivocal in his defense of the decision.

All around the league, people are saying that Belichick went against the odds without providing any statistics to back that up.

But if the decision is about playing the percentages, a leaguewide statistical analysis of that situation is relevant -- more, I think, than the gut call. We all know the gut call is to punt. That's what coaches have been doing forever.

posted by rcade at 06:51 AM on November 17

I stand corrected about Tony Romo speaking critically about the offense after that game, but now that I've read the comments, it's interesting that he got slammed for them. The biggest knock on Romo has been that he's too easygoing, shrugs off losses too easily and should speak up and take a leadership role.

What would people rather hear -- the guy talking in the offseason about problems that need to be fixed, when they can be addressed, or what he told a Wisconsin newspaper a month later: "If I'm never going to win the Super Bowl, I'll be content in life"?

You keep making an issue of the fact that I'm a Cowboys fan. I am, and I've seen and read Romo's post-game interviews numerous times. So I can tell you that he's self-critical about his own play, to a fault, and doesn't take shots at others. How many times did T.O. try to bait him into a public spat and he shrugged it off?

posted by rcade at 07:08 AM on November 17

How many times did T.O. try to bait him into a public spat and he shrugged it off?

Too many to count. It's pretty easy for people to bash Romo but the guy is still having a hell of a season. He doesn't need to be on magazine covers to justify his position as an NFL QB, he is who he is and nothing is really going to change that.

posted by BornIcon at 07:56 AM on November 17

The Pats and Colts don't play each other often enough to get the kind of statistical data we're talking about. How many times have they gone for it on fourth and 2 against each other? How many times have they given the other team a chance to win with a drive that began near the red zone? That's not statistics, it's anecdotes.

Sure, the sample size of 100% relevant data is too small to use in most cases, that doesn't change the fact that if you then start using less relevant datat that your outcomes change. That was my point. Belichick can say that teams make that play 60% of the time, but not against the Colts with the game on the line.

Statistics often are misleading due to the influence of data collected regarding similar, but not identical, circumstances/events.

posted by dviking at 10:35 AM on November 17

I think we will just have to disagree that it's "less relevant" to consider how all NFL teams fared in those circumstances when evaluating Belichick's decision. Your original position that "[i]n this particular situation, 99.9% of the time it makes sense to punt" wasn't qualified -- it covered all teams -- and most of the criticism of Belichick asserts that he was wrong as a general rule.

The league-wide stats do not appear to bear this out, much to my surprise. You can argue the specifics of his decision, but in the general case, the numbers show that a coach who punts in that situation has lowered his chance of winning.

posted by rcade at 11:04 AM on November 17

Statistics often are misleading due to the influence of data collected regarding similar, but not identical, circumstances/events

The gut is actually 63% misleading. In fact, it's got shit for brains.

posted by tron7 at 11:30 AM on November 17

TMQ likes the call.

posted by DevilsAdvocate at 12:30 PM on November 17

Belichick Decision Evaluator

posted by tron7 at 01:39 PM on November 17

actually, I was basing my decision on just the fact that they were playing the Colts. And, yes, 99.9% was out of line, I have no clue as to why I put that figure as I don't think it's that clear cut. I just don't buy a 60% success rate in going for it against the Colts in that situation.

posted by dviking at 04:58 PM on November 17

see when you don't have video that tells you what the other team's defensive coordinator has called, it makes it hard to succeed on fourth and 2

posted by Demophon at 11:28 AM on November 19

see when you don't have video that tells you what the other team's defensive coordinator has called, it makes it hard to succeed on fourth and 2

We have a winner !

posted by tommytrump at 11:39 AM on November 19

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