At the end of the Denver-Minnesota game Sunday, Vikings’ QB Christian Ponder threw an interception that was returned by Andre Goodman inside the 20. The Vikings used their first timeout after a run by Denver, and then on second down, Broncos’ RB Lance Ball busted up the middle and was tackled at the 4 yard line. Minnesota used its second timeout with 1:12 left. Denver had first and goal, Minnesota had only one timeout, and Minnesota was powerless to stop Denver from holding the ball until the final second before kicking what amounted to an extra point.
That is … unless Minnesota allowed Denver to score a touchdown. Denver didn’t appear to play to take the knee. On the next play, Ball went up the middle and was stopped for a 2 yard gain. He would have scored had Minnesota stepped out of the way.
Jared Allen felt it would be wise to allow the Broncos to score and try to match it.
As a competitor it’s hard to let someone score. It really is. But then again you try to be strategic about it (and be like), ‘Well, maybe the only shot we have is to let them score (quick) and then try to go down and score.’ Luckily for me, I don’t get paid (for that). That’s coach’s decision. I just play the defense that’s called and try to make tackles.
His coach, Leslie Frazier, disagreed that it was the best strategy. Denver made the field goal with no time left. Denver 35, Minnesota 32.
Let’s start with this. Minnesota was a massive underdog after the interception regardless of what he did. Almost every time in that spot, regardless of the decision, Minnesota is going to lose. If Frazier had let them score and the Vikings failed to answer, everyone would have talked about the potential for a botched snap or a blocked field goal.
Leslie Frazier cited seeing blocks there. Sure, we’ve all seen the occasional blocked PAT, but it doesn’t mean we’ve accounted for how frequently kicks don’t get blocked. So far this season, teams are making 99.5% of their extra points. That number is a little higher than recent seasons (98.9% on average over the last four seasons), but I think part of that is weather-related, and we haven’t gotten to the bad part of the season yet. In this case, though, the game was in a dome. The chances that Denver missed that kick were less than 1%.
Accounting for the chances of scoring a touchdown by conceding is a little more difficult. Denver may opt to try to kick deep hoping for the touchback, or they may do what many teams do, and limit the return by squib kicking. I went through the game database from 2002-2010 and found all cases where a team had a 1st and 10 with between 0:50 and 1:10 left in the game, between their own 15 and own 35, while trailing by between 4 and 8 points. I then looked at how many scored a touchdown in that situation.
Forty-four cases fit that description. The team scored a touchdown in 2 of them (4.5%). That may underestimate the chances because it assumes a modest to decent return or a touchback. Percy Harvin’s a pretty good playmaker–just last week it was his long return that led to the goal line decision. I suspect that Denver may have tried to avoid giving him any chance, and conceded some field position. Kickers have occasionally kicked out of bounds in late situations. I think making the other team execute a strategic kickoff would have been a decent idea.
But anyway, 4.5% is a good low end estimate. One of the two teams that scored in that situation? A Brett Favre game-winner for the Vikings against San Francisco two years ago.
Given how many yards that Christian Ponder was able to throw for, and the way the game had gone in a 32-32 affair, I would have preferred giving him one more shot.
It was a long shot either way, but increasing your team’s chances of winning by five-fold is probably a chance I would take. I’m with Jared Allen.
[photo via Getty]