WHEN IT WAS happening on Saturday night, the reaction here was the same as the reaction everywhere. How can Andy Reid punt, even if it is fourth-and-15? Trailing by three, with 1 minute, 56 seconds left, on the Eagles' 39-yard line, how can Reid be sending out the punt team?
At the time, here was the take: that this was a mistake but not an enormous mistake, not a high crime but a misdemeanor. Standing there at fourth-and-15, the Eagles were in the realm of the longshot and everybody who watches the NFL knew it. At that point in the game, in the frenzy of the Superdome, when every reaction to everything was raw and visceral, it seemed that Reid was guilty of mismanaging something that probably wasn't going to happen anyway. He did not shoot Secretariat.
But then you look at the
Darn those numbers.
The conclusion you come to
is that Reid was faced with a
statistical coin flip. The unavoidable conclusion is that he was not wrong to punt, that it was just as valid a strategy as going for it on fourth-and-15. Surprise. There are a lot of days when you might think that Reid is a better coach on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday than he is on game day, but this was not necessarily one of them.
When you analyze this, you have to look at the numbers when Jeff Garcia has been the Eagles' quarterback. We have celebrated Garcia's work here for good reason, because he brought fire and hope and skill to a season thought to be over when Donovan McNabb tore up a knee against Tennessee in the Eagles' 10th game of the season. He deserves every bit of the praise he has received, and he deserves to be back here next season.
But he is a technician, not a magician. Garcia is about
accuracy, about competency. Give him a running game and protection and he will give you winning quarterback play. But he will not make chicken salad for you out of fourth-and-15.
I went through the play-by-plays yesterday for about an hour-and-a-half and couldn't find a play where Garcia
converted a third- or fourth-and-15. I couldn't find a play where he converted anything more than a third-and-11.
As best as I can tell, he was 3-for-13 trying to convert on third-and-10 this season, 4-for-8 on third-and-11, and 0-for-12
trying to convert distances
longer than that on third and fourth downs.
That McNabb is a much
better player at rescuing these kinds of situations goes without saying. It is obvious, but it needs to be said here again just for emphasis. McNabb was
the quarterback for the fourth-and-26 miracle a few years ago against Green Bay, not Garcia. That McNabb is so much better than the average guy at these salvage operations has always been Reid's security blanket. But he wasn't there on Saturday night in New Orleans.
So, punt or go? Let's be very generous here and give Garcia an 8 percent chance of converting on fourth-and-15 - about a 12-1 longshot. Now, let's give Garcia the same production rate as he had all season when he had a first down in that part of the field (between about
midfield and the plus-35). In that part of the field, Garcia
engineered at least a field goal 59 percent of the time.
Do the math. Going for it on fourth-and-15 left the Eagles with less than a 5 percent chance of tying the game or
going ahead - and, again, that's being very generous
because Garcia never converted from that distance all year. You could argue that it was approaching a zero percent chance, if you wanted.
How about the punt? The
Eagles had held the Saints to 1-2-3-punt only once in the
previous 10 possessions - a 10 percent chance of stopping them. (They were much better than that during the second half of the season, but we'll ignore that here.) Still, seeing as how the Eagles could stack the
defense for the run because
everyone knew the Saints would run, a reasonable expectation was probably higher than that 10 percent, at least a little.
If successful, the Eagles would have gotten the ball back with about 1 minute left and the ball on approximately their 35-yard line. This is going to have to be a guesstimate because of the time factor in the game, but when you multiply it out, you come out in the exact same spot - about a 4-5-6 percent chance, give or take, of holding the Saints, getting the ball back and scoring.
Punt or go, then? Both approaches were longshots, obviously. Sorry for all of the math, but if you are going to kill Reid here, you need to be armed with more than the emotions of the moment, more than the helplessness you felt with a season about to end in the frenzy of the Superdome.
Punt or go? It really was a coin flip. It wasn't even a
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