Decisions, Decisions in the NFL

November 17, 2009 Updated: November 17, 2009

Bill Belichick felt that going for it on 4th-and-2 was the right call. (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Bill Belichick felt that going for it on 4th-and-2 was the right call. (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
It’s always easy to evaluate a decision based on its results. Sunday’s NFL action gave us two prime examples of what are now being called a good decision and a bad decision based mostly on their results.

The Indianapolis Colts’ come-from-behind 35–34 victory over the New England Patriots in Indianapolis will be remembered for Bill Belichick’s decision to go for it on 4th-and-2 from his own 28-yard line with 2:08 left in the game with his Pats up 34–28.

The New England Patriots head coach made a controversial decision. The other choice would have been to punt the ball away to the Colts and make Peyton Manning run the typical two-minute drill.

Instead, Belichick weighed the balance of probabilities and felt that offense was his best form of defense. He is a Hall of Fame coach with a Hall of Fame QB (Tom Brady) and he has to gain two yards to win the game. He liked that choice over having his above average defense take on the league’s best at the two-minute drill.

“Thought it was our best chance to win,” said Belichick in his Monday morning press conference. “I put the team first. I would hope everybody understands that.”

Belichick did put the team first but, reading between the lines, he did not have enough confidence in his defense’s ability to get the job done.

“You have to give your defense a chance to play defense,” said ESPN football analyst Tom Jackson. Conventional wisdom would say that you have to trust your defense to come up big when called upon.

On the play, Tom Brady threw a short pass to Kevin Faulk, who bobbled the ball but eventually caught it. But he was stopped short of the first down. Football is a game of inches. Because of that bobble, Faulk was ruled to only have possession of the ball after he had been stopped short of the first down.

Peyton Manning and the Colts got the ball back on the New England 29-yard line with two minutes to play. That’s an easy two-minute drill for the master that is Peyton Manning.

Melvin Bullitt stops Kevin Faulk short of the first down marker. (Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
Melvin Bullitt stops Kevin Faulk short of the first down marker. (Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
Belichick was slammed for his decision to not punt the ball and make Manning go the length of the field. But Manning is not some ordinary QB. He forced Belichick to do something unconventional. How would we have reacted had Faulk not bobbled the ball and made the first down? It’s not hard to see how Belichick would have been credited with yet another brilliant coaching decision.

Taking a Knee

A decision that is widely being labeled as being smart took place near the end of the game between the Jacksonville Jaguars and the New York Jets.

But it very easily could have gone all wrong.

Jags running back Maurice Jones-Drew could have scored the go-ahead touchdown with his team trailing 22–21 late in the fourth quarter. Instead, the running back was instructed not to score the TD so that the Jags could run some more time off the clock before kicking the game-winning field goal.

All went according to plan for the Jags, as Jones-Drew took a knee at the Jets’ 1-yard line. Three plays later, Josh Scobee kicked a 21-yard field goal to give the Jags a 24–22 win on the last play of the game.

But, suppose there was a bad snap on the field goal attempt. Suppose the field goal was blocked. Suppose the Jags fumbled on one of the plays following Jones-Drew’s run. Then, in all likelihood, the Jags would have lost.

What if Jones-Drew had scored the TD? The Jags would be up 28–22 and rookie QB Mark Sanchez and the mediocre Jets’ offense would be forced to run the two-minute drill. If you’re a Jaguar, you probably like your chances in this scenario.

A strong case could be made for Jones-Drew scoring the TD. But because the desired result was achieved with Jones-Drew taking a knee, the Jacksonville coaching staff and Jones-Drew’s decision is being lauded as good.

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