I can't believe there's even a discussion about this. Everyone knows that Belichick was wrong. He made an arrogant decision that cost his team a victory. Yet rocket scientists and amateur poker players everywhere are breaking out their protractors to justify this game-losing decision.
Well, I spent about 10 minutes doing my own research. I present: Other numbers.
Over the last 6 weeks of the 2009 NFL football season, teams have attempted to go for it on 4th and 2 on 14 different occasions (including Belichick's dumb decision). Any idea how many times those 14 attempts have been successful? I'll give you a minute to guess.
Yep, it's zero. That's right. A big 0%. Eight incomplete passes, two failed runs, two interceptions, one sack and Belichick's pass that came up inches short. I wonder if Belichick knew how difficult it is to convert 4th and 2 when he made his bone-headed decision?
Anyone who understands football understands the difficulty in converting 4th and 2. It's a little too far to run meaning teams can play for the pass. In fact, Belichick made it even easier on the Colts by emptying the backfield eliminating any threat of a run at all.
Of course, many argue that had New England punted that Manning (because he's so super-awesome) would have lead a TD drive anyway. I wonder what the numbers say?
Over the last 6 weeks of the season, Indianapolis has had 37 drives starting from the 30 or behind and they've converted TDs in 10 of them. That's 27%.
Over the last 6 weeks of the season, New England's opponents have had 44 drives starting from the 30 or behind and they've convered TDs in 5 of them. That's 11%.
What about when New England and Indianapolis play each other? Here are some more numbers.
In this year's game, Indianapolis had 12 drives starting from the 30 or behind and they converted TDs in 3 of them. That's 25%.
Since 2006 against New England, Indianapolis had 29 drives starting from the 30 or behind and they converted TDs in 6 of them. That's 21%.
Of course, Indianapolis got the ball from the 40 yard line or closer twice against New England since 2006 and, predictably, both resulted in TDs, including the game-winner a week ago.
So what do the numbers tell me?
4th and 2 conversion rate last 6 weeks: 0%
Indianapolis' TD rate from 70+ yards vs. NFL last 6 weeks: 27%
New England's opponents' TD rate from 70+ yards last 6 weeks: 11%
Indianapolis' TD rate from 70+ yards vs. NE last week: 25%
Indianapolis' TD rate from 70+ yards vs. NE since 2006: 21%
I don't know about you... but those numbers certainly don't support going for it on 4th and 2. Looks like NE had a chance somewhere between 75% and 85% of stopping Indianapolis on a long TD drive but very little chance of either converting the 4th down or stopping the Colts if they failed on the 4th down conversion. And that doesn't even include the fact that the Colts would have been attempting this drive with just 1 timeout and just 2 minutes left in the game which likely lowers the Colts' percentages.
Of course, lots of people will say I'm cherry-picking. Guess what? That's what statisticians do. They cherry-pick numbers to support their case.
This was a bad decision by Belichick. It's clear that the decision was last-second which only compounded the mistake. Had New England really intended to go for it on 4th down no matter what, there's little chance they throw the ball on 3rd down. Not only would a run have been a surprise on 3rd (giving it a better chance of succeeding) it also would have forced the Colts to burn their final timeout and it would likely have gotten them closer for their 4th down attempt (which, given the spot, would have made all the difference).
When New England failed on 3rd down, most of the offense was running off the field and New England was then forced to burn their last timeout which prevented them from challenging the spot on 4th down (although I'm not sure a challenge would have worked). If the plan was to go for it on 4th all along, wouldn't the offense have known that? After all, they had already burned a timeout in that same drive!
Not to mention, going for it in this situation brings all kinds of factors into play, including crowd noise and the potential of the home crowd to influence any close spot in favor of the Colts.
Of course, context doesn't matter to the people with their fancy equations. Context is irrelevant, right?