Did you hear about what Joe Philbin did? No? Then it must have worked. Leading 17-14 with 4:15 to go, Miami faced 4th and 1 from their own 40. As Jason Lisk noted, going for it here makes a lot of sense due to the time remaining. With 4 minutes to go, the Rams wouldn’t drain the clock even if they scored, so your worst case scenario is something like down by 4 with a minute to go. More likely (and that’s probably being too kind to Jeff Fisher), the Rams would play it uber conservatively, and either miss a long field goal or convert with more than a minute remaining, giving Miami ample time to regain the lead. Miami called for a fake punt — advisable in an age when coaches don’t think teams should go for it in these circumstances — and converted. They punted a few plays later, but the Rams had less than two minutes to go and the ball at their own three. They had to settle for a 66-yard field goal, and missed, giving Miami the win.
Honorable mention: Pete Carroll doesn’t really deserve credit here, but we grade on a scale at Football Perspective. Trailing 23-10 with 7:26 left in the 4th quarter, Carroll chose to go for it on 4th and 3 from the
Seattle New England 10. Obvious? Maybe, but how many coaches would “take the 3 points,” thinking they could transform a two-score game into a … two-score game. Carroll had Russell Wilson throw a fade in the end zone to Braylon Edwards, who came down with the touchdown. What coach might kick it there? How about Marvin Lewis, who once did so on 4th and 8 from the 8 with less than 7 minutes to go.
And on the other side…
Bruce Arians twice declined to go for it on 4th and 1 against the Jets. On Indianapolis’ opening drive, the Colts stalled at the Jets 40-yard line. Facing 4th and 1 against a weak offense in enemy territory? On the opening drive of the game, this should be as easy a decision as it gets, but Bruce Arians chose to punt. It was a good one — downed at the Jets 3 — but that’s a poor tactic. New York went three-and-out, and Indianapolis took over at their own 41. They drove down to the Jets one-yard-line, and then… sent Adam Vinatieri in to kick a field goal to take a crucial (?) 3-0 lead midway through the first quarter.
Making those blunders even worse: Rex Ryan’s fake punt with Tim Tebow was perhaps the turning point in the game. New York was up 14-6 with just over two minutes to go, but faced 4th and 11 on the Indianapolis 40. A punt and Andrew Luck gets to work his two-minute drill magic, and we could have a 14-13 or tie game at halftime. The Jets faked the punt, converted, and scored a timeout with only seconds left in the half. That decision set in motion the events that led to a 21-6 halftime lead, and the game was effectively over.
Facing 4th and 1 with an explosive offense and a mediocre defense, against a team with an occasionally explosive offense and always terrible defense, Atlanta’s Mike Smith chose to punt from his own 45-yard line in a tie game with 6:26 remaining. The Raiders would drive down the field, only to have Carson Palmer and Asante Samuel do what they do best — throw lazy out routes and jump on sideline routes for interceptions, respectively — to help give Atlanta the victory. Samuel must have intercepted it because of the big boost of faith his coach put in the defense!
Were you surprised to see the Redskins defeat the Vikings? On each of Minnesota’s first three drives, the Vikings got inside the Washington ten-yard line, but settled for three field goals. The 4th down decisions weren’t terrible, but the third-down calls were. On 3rd-and-goal from the 5, Christian Ponder threw a short pass to Toby Gerhart who was tackled at the 3. An okay call if you plan to go for it on 4th down, but alas, Blair Walsh was sent onto the field for the ill-advised, 20-yard attempt.
On the next series, Minnesota faced 3rd and 12 from the 16, and Ponder threw a short pass to Adrian Peterson who gained seven yards. Why? Admittedly I didn’t see this game so it’s possible this was a checkdown.
On the third series of the game, facing 3rd and 4 from the 10, Minnesota… ran Toby Gerhart over the left guard for one yard. No one needs to have watched the game to roll your eyes at that decision.
Still, the 9-0 lead was huge for Minnesota, or should I say, would have been huge for Minesota if this was 1944. Instead, Robert Griffin III and Washington scored 38 points in the final three quarters, a shocking development for a team that, you know, is ranked third in the league in points. This was some surprisingly conservative playcalling for the team that pulled one of the upsets of the year against San Francisco, which started when Kyle Rudolph scored a one-yard touchdown on 4th and goal in the first quarter.