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Opening Arguments

Call of the wild

I've made some spectacularly bad decisions in my life, and I've worked for bosses who made some dumb moves the worker bees were expected to just keep quiet about. But now the pressure is off all of us; we no longer have to work so hard at apologizing or forgetting our bum calls, thanks to New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick, who should be named the Colts MVP for the help he gave them in their 35-34 comeback win last night.

The decision to go for it on 4th and 2 on the Patriots' own 28-yard line was so stunning that everybody is trying to come up with stronger and stronger derisive adjectives. Well, not everybody. Leave it to a New York Times writer to conclude that, statistically speaking, Belichick made the right call:

With 2:08 left and the Colts with only one timeout, a successful 4th-and-2 conversion wins the game for all practical purposes. A conversion on 4th-and-2 would be successful 60 percent of the time. Historically, in a situation with 2:00 left and needing a TD to either win or tie, teams get the TD 53 percent of the time from that field position. The total win probability for the 4th-down conversion attempt would therefore be:

(0.60 * 1) + (0.40 * (1-0.53)) = 0.79 WP (WP stands for win probability)

A punt from the 28 typically nets 38 yards, starting the Colts at their 34. Teams historically get the TD 30 percent of the time in that situation. So the punt gives the Pats about a 0.70 WP.

Statistically, the better decision would be to go for it, and by a good amount.

That's reminiscent of Ronald Reagan's observation  that an economist is someone who sees something that works in practice and wonders if it would work in theory. Thank goodness statistics don't win football games, eh, Colts fans?

Posted in: Hoosier lore, Sports


Kevin Knuth
Mon, 11/16/2009 - 3:18pm

I am no fan of Belichick, BUT, while we are all second guessing him today, what would we have said if it had worked?

He would have been labled him a "genius".

I do agree though, the Colts should send him a game ball!