October 6, 2008


Paul Campos brings up a good point at LGM: With about a minute left on the clock and a tie score, if the other team is in a strong position to score, time is more important than points. A loss by 3 counts the same as a loss by 7. The odds are against you either way, but would you rather get the ball back at your own 20 with a) a 7-point disadvantage and 60 seconds on the clock, or b) a 3-point disadvantage and 3 seconds on the clock? What exactly is wrong with doing what you need to do to get the ball back so you can take your shot?

Case in point: November 3, 2003. The New England Patriots are down by one point, 23-24, against the Denver Broncos, with 2:49 left on the game clock. It's fourth and long and the Pats are looking at having to hike the ball into their own end zone. Coach Bill Belichick calls for his center to intentionally snap the ball high and out of the back of the end zone, with no one catching it. That is a safety -- the Broncos get two points; the score is now 23-26. The Broncos get the ball after a regular, not a goal-line, kickoff. They went three-and-out, and New England got the ball back at the Denver 42. Brady chews up all but thirty seconds and thenn pops an eighteen-yarder to David Givens for a TD (extra point is good) making the score 30-27. New England wins. The whole world says Belichick is an absolute F-ing genius for the intentional safety.

What made people pop their hands on their foreheads was that the conventional wisdom was to just plow straight ahead and not concede a single point. But it's not that hard. The insight that makes it work is to understand that the margin of defeat didn't matter. If you lose, you lose, and that's a loss, period. The quantum -- winning or losing -- is what mattered.

Belichick realized that time and field position was more important than two points. If he needed to, he'd have called for a field goal and sent the game into overtime. Winning was better, of course, and it helped that the Patriots had both a strong defense and an explosive offense. The point is, the intentional safety traded two points that didn't matter for an opportunity to win outright. That seems like good strategy to me. It would have been good strategy had it failed. A chance to win is always better than a near-certain defeat. So sometimes you go all in.

Anyone listening at Camp McCain?

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