The Play, Continued

by Bryan

I love baseball statistics, and I love their modern updates, but I find some of their hardcore backers offputting. I’m happy that anyone has an opinion on baseball, and if they think Juan Pierre should be batting leadoff because he steals a lot of bases I find it amusing and cute to some degree. I generally find positions like this to be borne in the ignorance of value of a single player, and not ignorance of the sport as a whole, and there are so many baseball players I just let it go.

There’s also the baseball’s ficklness (is that a word?). You can make the wrong decision—like batting Juan Pierre leadoff againts anyone, but we’ll say Tim Lincecum—and he can go 3-for-4, and voila!, whomever you argued against feels emboldened. Rather than fight it, I try to appreciate baseball as a sport where odd things can happen and root for my teams to make the right decisions.

I don’t feel the same way about football, and the 4th-and-2 play called by Bill Belichick to win the game against the Colts. I liked the call when it happened, and now I’m so in favor of it that to hear anyone speak against it grates against me. Bill Simmons devoted the first 12 minutes of his podcast to whining about Belichick, with his sidekick calling Belichick both “arrogant” and not confident in his defense; funny that he’s arrogant and unconfident. I’m generally a Simmons defender, but this was an abomination. I’ve yet to hear one good explanation for why the Patriots should not have gone for it. Not. One.

Here are the reasons to go for it, one more time:

• Statistics

The numbers bear out the call, or make it too close to call. The NYT says 78% of the time going for it will result in a win, while punting it will net a win 70% of the time. Football Outsiders does some more math and calls it basically even. Still: no definitive reason NOT to go for it.

• Confidence

For all the talk of the Patriots “not having confidence in their defense,” isn’t this HAVING confidence in the offense? And as Joe Posnanski pointed out, isn’t potentially putting your defense on the field with a 30-yard stand ahead having MORE confidence in them? (I’m not sure this is actually true in this case, but it makes as much sense as anything a grown man who goes by the name “Cousin Sal” says.)

• Logic

As I wrote yesterday, you play to win the game. You work for months to get into a position to do so. Do you take the chance? Bill Belichick did. That’s what I want in my coach. The fact that it didn’t work should have no outcome on our appraisal.

I look at this like the Spurs’ loss to the Lakers when Derek Fisher hit that miracle shot in the playoffs. Two almost identically matched teams, rivals of a decade, the game ending dramatically and by a hair’s breadth. The Patriots are the machine that makes the good decisions, anchored by their consistent star. The Colts are built around one superstar, leading to high risk and reward. The Pats made the right decision and lost. That’s all there is to it.

FINAL NOTE?: Barring Barack Obama suddenly opining on this, I’m going to drop it, but not before linking to a clip of Merril Hoge defending the clip on ESPN. For all the criticisms you can level against Hoge, he nails it here. That’s good, but what’s telling is Josh Elliott’s absolute refusal to let him just say what he thinks. It’s like Hoge was on the O’Reilly Factor or something. It’s embarassing. For all the things ESPN debates that are completely pointless, here’s something that should be discussed, and the host tries to nip it in the bud. Well played, guys.

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