Marvin Lewis chose to kick a field goal with 3 minutes remaining, and his team trailing by 4 points, from the Miami 23 yard line, facing a 4th down and 5 yards to go. Of course, Rich Gannon the announcer immediately said it was the right call. I doubt Rich Gannon the quarterback would have agreed.
This isn’t second guessing. This was a horrible decision. But to check my instincts, I’m going to go through some of the historical numbers to get a sense. Before getting to the numbers, the mental equation is basically:
The chances of converting and scoring to take a lead, while still having a chance to come back even with a failure;
vs. the chances of coming back to get a field goal (if you make it) or get a touchdown (if you miss).
In poker terms, there are multiple outs. Lewis, though, gave up a pretty strong one, the direct path to a touchdown, without needing a defensive stop, right away.
So let’s quickly go through it.
My instinct was about 40% chance of converting. Wow, that number is almost exactly 40% (62 0f 150) since 2007. We’ll take that 41.3% at getting the first down.
Then, I’ll use the Advanced NFL Stats Game Probabilities for the rest of the scenarios.
Some of those conversions would automatically result in a touchdown, about 5% is a good estimate, with the remaining 36% of conversions still needing to score after a first down.
The chances of winning up 3 at the 3 minute mark: 75%
Chances of winning down 4 at (approximately) the 16, after a conversion, at 3 minute mark: 51%
Chances of winning, with Miami having 1st and 10 at own 23: 16%
Multiply all those by our percentages of converting 41% of time, and Cincinnati had about a 31.6% of winning by going for it.
Now to the Field Goal Path:
Chances of winning down by 1 after a make: 18.5% (That’s by taking both 1 and 2 point deficits)
Chances of winning down by 4 after a miss: 16% same as above.
Finally, the chances of making the field goal, going by the last five years from exactly that distance, are 83%.
Multiply those out, and the Bengals chances were about 18.1% by kicking.
Conclusion: Marvin Lewis cost his team dearly. About 13.5% chance of winning. That may not sound like a lot to you, but it’s huge. He almost cut it in half. You may be shocked to see that the chances of winning weren’t that much better being down by 1-2 instead of 4-5, but that’s because coaches are conservative and play for field goals. When they need touchdowns, they act more optimally. Well, unless they have three minutes left.
[photo via US Presswire]