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:
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.