Congratulations, Philadelphia. It turns out your new head coach said he was the one calling the plays during the second half on Saturday, which included a torturous late 4th quarter drive that took 5 minutes and 16 seconds, with Kansas City trailing by 14.
It was the longest drive that started with less than 7 minutes remaining, in a game where a team trailed by two scores, going back at least as far as 1998 in either the regular season or playoffs. (Full list here). If there’s a drive that took longer with a team trailing by two scores late in a game, I would love to see it.
It wasn’t just the absolute drive time, though, it was the methodical way in which the Chiefs wasted time that would have given them a better chance to win. There were 9 plays where they were tackled in bounds. Here’s a summary with the elapsed time between snaps, and the time remaining.
From the time that Alex Smith scrambled inside the New England 30, Kansas City ran four plays, using up over two minutes–and that included the stoppage for the two-minute warning.
Doug Pederson, of course, has an explanation. There’s an old saying–attributed to about 20 different sources–that it is better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to speak and remove all doubt. Pederson, I kid you not, said that the Chiefs took their time because they didn’t want to give the ball back to Tom Brady.
“It took us time because, No. 1, we did not want to give Tom Brady the ball back,” said Pederson, the Chiefs’ offensive coordinator for the past three seasons before being hired by the Eagles. “We knew we were going to score. We knew we had timeouts and time. We were also limited with the number of receivers. Jeremy Maclin was out of the game at the time. We were down numbers. We felt like at that point (it would have been a mistake) to give the ball back to Tom Brady.
“We still had timeouts and time even with the onside kick to put ourselves in a position to win the football game.”
Mind you, the Chiefs were playing this game of keep-away while trailing by two scores. This mentality sums up the problem with decision-making in the NFL. First, there was no requirement that they kick the ball deep if they score before the two-minute warning. They could choose to onside kick regardless of whether they took 22 seconds between plays or 29.
Second, and more importantly, it’s a failure to grasp the range of scenarios. There seems to be a binary thought problem with some decision-making. We are in field goal range or we aren’t (No, field goals get harder from longer distance and there is no clear line.) We are going to onside kick and not give it back anyway. (Umm, you do realize that 90% of non-surprise onside kicks are recovered by the receiving team, right?)
The onside kick is a desperation move when a team is expecting it. You still do it, particularly against a great QB, because it gives you another “out” (to use a poker term). But if your plan is to use up all the time and rely on an onside kick, well, that’s a BAD plan.
According to Football Outsiders‘ drive stats, New England picks up a first down or touchdown on 72.4% of each new set of downs. In a situation where they are trying to run some clock, that probably goes down a bit, but either way, let’s just say that there’s a 28% chance of stopping Brady cold.
There’s a 10% chance or so of a successful onside kick. The most likely scenario is that Tom Brady does get the ball back, and that Kansas City will need to force a punt. You want as much time as possible to provide some more margin, and more chances for a stop.
I don’t fault Albert Wilson for trying for the end zone after catching the ball with 2:50 left at the 5-yard line. Go for the TD. But tactically, the next play call should have been a pass. You don’t want to spike it, but you do want to stop the clock if you don’t score, and gather yourself. Maybe a fake with a rollout option so it can be thrown away. Maybe a fade, which is functionally better than a spike. The Chiefs managed to run one play in the minute before the two-minute warning. That’s inexcusable.
If the Chiefs shave time off those 9 plays where the clock kept running–if they take like 23 seconds instead, then there’s over a minute of extra time. That’s not an unreasonable request that leads to cats and dogs living together. The average gain was less than 8 yards on those plays. Teams spike the ball in 13-14 seconds on that distance. You can no-huddle and get a snap within 10 seconds of that mark. Russell Wilson, also trailing by two scores, averaged 21.5 seconds between snaps on similar plays against Carolina.
In that scenario, you give yourself one more set of downs to get the ball back. No one ever wants to give the ball to Tom Brady. That doesn’t mean you make decisions based on assuming a successful onside kick.
Oh, and congratulations on your new hire, Philadelphia. Cripes.