Bryan Joiner

Why then I

Tag: you play to win the game

The Play, Continued

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.

The Play

They start in the spring. They being practicing as a mass, knowing that in a few months their numbers will be whittled to 53.

The summer comes along, and it’s time for cuts. Every day, the players but their asses to make the NFL. At the end of the month, some do, some don’t. The ones that do have one charge: win football games.

In an average football game, there are 125 plays, on average. You can lose the game on almost all of them, but you cannot win the game on most of them.

So when you get to 4th-and-”2″ (really 1) against the best team in football, in their stadium, with the statistics in your favor and an all-time great staring you down, and you finally have a chance to win the game*, do you take it? For months, you’ve practiced and practiced and been taught to execute. Would you take that one chance?

I would, and Bill Belichick would. I’ve heard talking heads say he “disrespected” his team and that he “didn’t trust” it. Nothing could be further from the truth. He trusted his team to make 4th-and-2, and win them the game. He played to win the game. He understands what he is there to do.

Too many times in football and outside of it, people make the easy decision to save themselves, to look better. Belichick did what was right, not worrying about the consequences outside the lines. He ought to be commended.

The one good thing about the Pats’ failure on the play (if they even failed) is it exposed so many football analysts and writers as just fundamentally misunderstanding of the game. The list is long. Bill Simmons. Rodney Harrison. Peter King. Tedy Bruschi. Tony Dungy. Tom Jackson. Keyshawn Johnson. More, more, and more.

Make no mistake — they are wrong. Bill Belichick played to win the game, and he lost.

* Despite what he said, there actually was no guarantee of a win. The Colts take their timeouts after two running plays, and the Pats run a third to move the clock down. That gives Peyton the ball on the 20 or so with about a minute remaining if there’s no first down. That, I could live with.

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