I am always amazed at how much preparation an NFL head coach puts into a football game. These guys spend hours upon hours breaking down film and coming up with game plans that will give them any possible edge, however slight. They prepare for seemingly every situation and yet don’t seem to be aware of the Boy Scout-mantra “Always be prepared” for unexpected situations. In both of Saturday’s playoff games, a coach’s bizarre decision altered the course of the game at a key moment.
#1. New Orleans kicks a field goal on 4th and 2 down by a touchdown
Oh Sean Payton – what happened to you? Aren’t you the same guy that’s still featured on commercials for calling for an onside kick to open up the second half of the Super Bowl?
Here’s the situation: down 34-27 with 9:13 left in the game, the Saints faced a 4th-and-2 on the Seattle 3 yard line. Payton sent kicker Garrett Hartley out for the chip shot field goal to pull the Saints within four. The Saints actually do get the ball back one more time, fail to get a first down, then this happens:
and the Seahawks hang on for one of the biggest upsets in recent playoff history.
Two things about this decision. First, the Saints went for it on 4th and inches from their own 39-yard line midway through the third quarter. Um…isn’t that way more dangerous than this situation? Second, anytime your worst case scenario involves giving the ball back to Matt Hasselbeck on his own 3-yard line, still only trailing by a touchdown, isn’t that a fairly safe situation?
This isn’t rocket science – the only smart move in this situation is to go for it. Look at it this way:
If the Saints go for it on 4th down: best case scenario – they tie the game at 34; worst case scenario – they turn the ball over on downs to the Seahawks at their own 3;
If the Saints kick a field goal (assuming he makes the chip shot): best case scenario – they pull within four and pin them deep on the kickoff; worst case scenario – they pull within 4 and the Seahawks get a solid return and are set up in good-field position to clinch the game.
The worst case scenario for the made field goal is actually worse than the worst case scenario if the Saints go for it. All that preparation for the game and then Payton makes a terrible decision at the worst possible time.
#2. Jim Caldwell’s timeout late gives the Jets the game
There’s still three rounds of games left, but I can say with confidence that this will be by far the most egregious decision of the playoffs. Here’s the situation: the Colts are up 16-14 in the closing seconds. Mark Sanchez leads the Jets to the Colts’ 34-yard line with 36 seconds left. The Jets then run the ball up the middle for one yard. They only have one timeout left so it’s pretty clear that the Jets are going to sit on the ball and attempt a 50-yard field goal to win the game.
And then Colts coach Jim Caldwell inexplicably calls his final timeout. Given the gift of an extra timeout, the Jets set up a fairly safe out pattern to Braylon Edwards. The pass is complete to the Colts’ 14-yard line and the Jets run the clock down to three seconds and Nick Folk kicks a 32-yard field goal to send the Jets to the next round. I think Peyton Manning’s reaction to the timeout tells the story:
Now I don’t really have to explain how insane it is to let a team attempt a 32-yard field goal when they were willing to settle for a 50-yard field goal. Rather I’ll just point out that, despite all that preparation that went into this game, Jim Caldwell apparently forgot that the Jets kicker is Nick Folk. The same Nick Folk that the Cowboys waived before the end of the season because he was such a train wreck. The same Nick Folk that is a career 7-for-14 (2-for-5 this season) on kicks 50 yards or longer.
And yet Caldwell says “no thanks” and lets the Jets get 18 yards closer. Folk makes the field goal, the Colts go home, Peyton Manning has a sudden aneurysm, and Jim Caldwell is suddenly on the hot seat. Quite the decision.