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Luck causes people to lose their minds

Luck causes people to lose their minds.

I can’t believe I’m writing this article. Everyone loves Chuck Pagano, but he made a pretty embarrassing blunder at the end of the Colts upset win in San Francisco on Sunday. The Colts led 13-7 when Andrew Luck scrambled for a six yard touchdown on 3rd-and-3 with just over four minutes left in the fourth quarter. Incredibly, Pagano then chose to kick the extra point, which my buddy and Colts fan Nate Dunlevy identified immediately as a terrible decision.

I wasn’t going to write a post about that decision, because, ya know, what could be more obvious than going for two when up by 12 points with just over four minutes left in the game? I mean, Jason Garrett got this right in the season opener. Being up by 14 points means two touchdowns doesn’t beat you, while there is almost no difference between being up 12 or being up 13 points. That doesn’t make for a very interesting post, though.

From 1999 to 2012, 36 teams scored a touchdown when leading by 6 points in the final eight minutes of the fourth quarter. Only 22 times did the team then follow that score by going for two, converting half of the time. Take a look:

2003STLPITBoxscore272107:599rush2PTNOMike Martz
2001TENTAMBoxscore201407:574rush2PTYESJeff Fisher
2004CHINYGBoxscore201407:5641rush2PTYESLovie Smith
2011OAKDETBoxscore201407:556frXP1Hue Jackson
2003BALJAXBoxscore161007:4529rush2PTYESBrian Billick
2011NORTENBoxscore161007:0828pass2PTNOSean Payton
2001WASNYGBoxscore272106:5276pass2PTYESMarty Schottenheimer
2006NYGWASBoxscore272106:2550rushXP1Tom Coughlin
2009PHINYGBoxscore373105:541rush2PTYESAndy Reid
2001KANSEABoxscore13705:4915rush2PTNODick Vermeil
2009NYJINDBoxscore211505:421rush2PTYESRex Ryan
2009DETWASBoxscore13705:312rush2PTNOJim Schwartz
2010MIATENBoxscore231705:269pass2PTNOTony Sparano
2009DALCARBoxscore13705:1527ir2PTYESWade Phillips
2003MIANYGBoxscore161004:201rushXP1Dave Wannstedt
2004NYJSDGBoxscore272104:011passXP1Herman Edwards
2006SDGCLEBoxscore241803:588rush2PTYESMarty Schottenheimer
2006NYGATLBoxscore201403:504passXP1Tom Coughlin
2008TENMINBoxscore231703:466rushXP1Jeff Fisher
2011NYGPHIBoxscore221603:3918passXP1Tom Coughlin
2003DENOAKBoxscore14803:181rush2PTYESMike Shanahan
2008NYJCINBoxscore201402:271rush2PTNOEric Mangini
2008DALNYGBoxscore14802:2438rush2PTNOWade Phillips
2012DENPITBoxscore251902:1043ir2PTNOJohn Fox
2009NORMIABoxscore403402:0654ir2PTNOSean Payton
2000GNBDETBoxscore191302:0139rushXP1Mike Sherman
2002SEAKANBoxscore312502:0046rush2PTYESMike Holmgren
2003JAXSDGBoxscore201402:0060passXP1Jack Del Rio
2002STLARIBoxscore201402:0013rushXP1Mike Martz
2001PITJAXBoxscore13702:007rushXP1Bill Cowher
2000MINMIABoxscore6002:0015passXP1Dennis Green
2008PHIATLBoxscore201401:5939rushXP1Andy Reid
2004GNBWASBoxscore201401:4811rush2PTYESMike Sherman
2001TAMBALBoxscore161001:4832rush2PTNOTony Dungy
2010DETWASBoxscore312501:4517fr2PTNOJim Schwartz
2003CHISDGBoxscore13700:261rushXP1Dick Jauron

The biggest offender when it comes to understanding math is Tom Coughlin.  Maybe Coughlin just hates going for two? Trailing 17-9 with just over three minutes left in the third quarter against Denver in week two, I found it very odd that Coughlin chose to kick the extra point after a Brandon Jacobs touchdown. And it’s not like Coughlin’s burned by two-point attempts in the recent past, as the Giants have converted on their last six two point attempts in the regular season (they did miss one at the end of Super Bowl XLVI). Here’s a particularly baffling example from Coughlin: trailing by two against the Eagles with 8 minutes left in the fourth quarter, the Giants went for two after a Victor Cruz touchdown. Jacobs converted on a run, giving the Giants a six-point lead. With 3:39 remaining, Eli Manning completed a pass to Ahmad Bradshaw for a 18-yard touchdown… and Coughlin kicked the extra point to go up 13!

You might have noticed that the table above didn’t include a column for whether the team ultimately won the game. That’s because, with only two exceptions, the decision to go for it or not didn’t matter. In thirty-four of the 36 games, the opposing team did not score the rest of the game or was held to just one touchdown. Twice, though, the opponent scored two touchdowns.

In this game twelve years ago, Jeff Fisher saved the game by making the right decision. With just under eight minutes remaining, an Eddie George run gave the Titans a 26-14 lead over the Buccaneers. Fisher then went for two, and Steve McNair hit Kevin Dyson for the conversion. Those were two pretty important points: on the ensuing drive, Brad Johnson drove the Bucs down the field for a quick score, and then Johnson threw a second touchdown passes with just under one minute left in the game. By connecting on the two point conversion, that touchdown only forced overtime…. where the Titans managed to win with a 49-yard Joe Nedney field goal.

Do you remember that whacky game between the Lions and Raiders two years ago? That game featured a little bit of everything, including a pair of former number one picks having monster games. Carson Palmer threw for 367 yards and a touchdown on 40 passes, while Matthew Stafford went 29/52 for 391 yards and four touchdowns. Calvin Johnson caught 9 passes for 214 yards and 2 touchdowns. Ndamukong Suh would come up big on the game’s final play, but it was another top five draft pick who made that game relevant for today’s post. With the Raiders leading 20-14, Tommy Kelly strip-sacked Stafford, and Aaron Curry recovered and ran it in six yards for a touchdown. There was just under eight minutes left in the game, but Hue Jackson chose to kick the extra point.

To be fair, there’s a big difference between scoring a touchdown up six with eight minutes left than with five minutes left, so I won’t kill Jackson for that decision. As it turns out, the Lions scored a touchdown, stopped the Raiders, and then went on a 98-yard touchdown drive to take a 28-27 lead. Oakland came back and tried a 65-yard field goal on the final play of the game, but Suh blocked Sebastian Janikowski’s kick, giving Detroit the win. In that game, Darrius Heyward-Bey caught 8 passes for 155 yards and a touchdown, but his team lost in part because of his head coach’s blunder. Maybe Heyward-Bey can have a sit down with Chuck Pagano this week.

  • Ian

    “Being up by 14 points means two touchdowns doesn’t beat you, while there is almost no difference between being up 12 or being up 13 points.”

    Looking at your last example, there still is a difference. Let’s say that after the Lions scored their first touchdown, the Raiders manage to kick a field goal. The 12-point lead would now be a 8-point lead, which is still a one-possession game, whereas the 13-point lead would now be a 9-point lead, which is a two-possession game. Pretty much the only way for the decision to go for it to matter is if the opponent scores two touchdowns, so getting a field goal in between, especially if they have a short field following an onside kick, is not that unlikely.

    • sn0mm1s

      Pretty sure FGs are only worth 4 pts in fantasy leagues. Also, you will get a lot of argument that an 8 pt game isn’t a one possession game – it is more than likely a two possession game.

      Speaking of which, Chase, now that you have the ear of some of the FO guys did you ever mention the bizarre situation that being down 8 is worse than being down 9 when there was no 2 pt conversion and how other point differentials seem to have similar patterns?

  • Red

    Thanks for posting this, Chase. I don’t even like the Colts, but I was screaming at the TV when I saw Pagano hold up one finger after that touchdown. I can’t help but wonder…with all the assistant coaches and quality control people employed by NFL teams, couldn’t they designate someone as the official “strategy coordinator” and let him make clock/score decisions? That would allow the head coach to focus on other things that he’s better equipped to deal with.

  • fred

    what might be consideration (just maybe): if the coach thinks he’s going to win the
    game anyway, why put a, possibly valuable, surprising 2-point conversion play on film