Another Take on 4th and 2

Three Super Bowl Championships, to a franchise as moribund as the New England Patriots had been when Bill Belichick took over, carry with them a cache of good will. Which, when accompanied by a little more than two bucks, will get you a large coffee regular at Dunkin’ the morning after a tough loss against a hated rival on national television. Dems da breaks, Bill. I only interpret the rules, I don’t write them. What’s worse is that the criticism is in many ways unfounded. Belichick consistently through his tenure at the helm of the Patriots has gone for it on fourth down, no matter where he is on the field. This call was a case of being true to who Belichick is as a coach. But that fails to soothe the bruised egos of the fan base in Foxboro.

Time for a game of hypothetical roullette. Let’s say the play is successful. The Patriot’s get a first down and then run the ball at the Colts on first down. Indy calls timeout—their last. With a little more than a minute and a half, New England really needs to suck up as much time as possible to wind the clock down. Running play, nets anothe couple of yards, and the clock keeps ticking to the full forty. Under a minute now, another run up the gut another forty seconds tick away. And with fourth down arriving, another choice needs to be made, go for it again, kick it away. A successful execution of the fourth and two would not have clinched the game, but with a fresh set of downs, New England’s probability of winning would have been enhanced. Had the play succeeded, and New England won, the response would have been, what a smart call by Belichick. Kicking it away is playing safe, largely because conventional wisdom says it is so. Going for it is a different animal. One that has prompted diverse sources in the blogosphere to rally to Belichick. The Sports Economist while quoting Advanced NFL Stats’ examination of the actual probabilities involved, remarked:

Rather than “stupid,” “dumb,” or “insulting,” this is is the kind of decision making that has made Belechick better than most NFL coaches. Risk aversion, media response (even if coaches deny it), or lack of analytical skill drives many coaches toward applications of “conventions” even when those conventions don’t make sense. Belechick is willing to go with the analytics and live with it. After all, it’s not how it turned out after the fact that makes it a good or bad decision, it’s the likelihood going in.

I’ll openly disagree with the final sentence. The result matters, a whole lot. If the result was irrelevant, there would be no risk. The failure of the play should call into question the decision making process. Fans feeling the stinging taste of bitter defeat clinging to their lips rarely find solace in analytical pieces documenting the rightness of decisions that don’t work. They are and always will be results oriented. Did it work? No. Boooooooo. Bill Belichick, parodied as Darth Bill and dozens of other less pleasant monikers, has a thick skin. I’m sure he could care less that the NFL’s chattering class thinks he cost his team the game. And by sitting on his lead and not doing a better job of managing the clock, (as documented below) he in many ways did not maximize their opportunities to win. Equally dismissed, I’m sure, are the comments supporting his decision. He knows he was right. He will do it again. The comments are like the buzzings of flies. And yeah, I’ll take my coffee with extra sugar today, thanks.

Note: Joe Tetreault is a guest writer to Foxboro Blog.  You’ll be able to read more of his opinion and analysis on all-things sports, news, business, and culture on his blog, TetreautltVision, which is scheduled to launch on the Bloguin Network shortly.