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Always go for the win with a 2-point conversion when possible at the end of regulation

Posted by John Reed on

The Green Bay Packers did not play for the NFC championship in 2016. Why not?

Maybe because they chose the standard decision rather than the smart one at the end of regulation in their game against the Cardinals—the avoid-getting-criticized-for-the-decision decision.

I have written 8 football coaching books that point out the correct ways to make such decisions. One, Football Clock Management, has a chapter on the P.A.T. at the NFL, NCAA, and HS levels.

Football Clock Management bookI was actually out to dinner at a nice restaurant with my wife and another couple—one of my college classmates. As we were leaving, I asked my wife to wait as we passed the TV in the bar on the Packers game. With about three something left. The trailing Packers turned the ball over on downs to the Cardinals. “Game over,” I said and we left.

‘Game over?’ Not quite

Not game over. Aaron Rodgers threw a Hail Mary pass to bring his team within one point of tying the game—while we were in the car going home listening to my iPod music.

The standard put-the-game-into-overtime decision

Then came the standard decision. Should they go for the win with a two-point conversion attempt? Or settle for the tie and try to win in OT—the latter being the conventional wisdom, standard decision? They went for the tie, got it, and lost in OT.

Going for the win needs to become the new standard tactic. The true basis for going for the tie is nothing but careerist coach timidity. Coaches who go for the tie are not trying to win the game—almost by definition. They are just trying to avoid the blame for losing.

They ought to put on their big-boy pants and make the decision that is most likely to result in victory not the one most likely to shield them from blame for losing. Mike McCarthy, the head coach of the Packers made the wrong decision. Not the totally, absolutely, mathematically, wrong decision like Pete Carroll made calling for a pass at the end of last year’s Super Bowl. But wrong. I am now going to explain why and Mike McCarthy knows the truth of everything I’m going to say without me saying it. He made the wrong decision because he is a moral coward. So are almost all of the other coaches in the NFL.

Which is better: 2 yards or 80? Sure possession or 50%-50% chance of possession?

After the Packers Hail Mary TD, they could either put the ball on the two-yard line and go for the victory (two-point conversion) or put it on the 15 and go for the tie. At that distance, the success rate for the kicks is 93%. Two point conversions only succeed about 47.5% of the time.

But there is no prize for prolonging the game. Only winning matters.

So here we have Green Bay in possession of the ball on the Cardinals two—two yards away from victory and advancing to the NFC championship. And instead they choose to merely try to put the game into overtime.

They have possession now. Will they get possession in OT? Maybe, It depends on a coin toss and if they lose the toss, whether they can get a stop. Will they EVER have the ball on the Cardinals two in OT? Who knows? They just played the Cardinals to a tie after 60 minutes. At that point, OT is a total toss-up, a pick-em. Neither team is the favorite any more.

But right now, as they make the PAT decision, they DO have the ball on the Cardinals two—two yards away from victory, two yards away from the NFC championship.

Makes even more sense to go for two now that you kick from the 15

With the new rule on kicking the one-point conversion from the 15 instead of the two, going for the win makes even more sense and going for the win made all the sense before the change.

Frequently, the team that chooses to tie in regulation instead of going for two never touches the ball in OT. BUT THEY HAVE POSSESSION NOW! AND ON THE DAMNED TWO YARD LINE OF THE OPPONENT! How can anyone think it better to toss a coin, which, if you win, typically gives you possession 80 YARDS FROM THE OPPONENT’S GOAL LINE!!!! How the hell is that better than being two yards from victory and CERTAINTY of possession?

In the event, Mike McCarthy got his tie in the 93% hand instead of the 47.5% two-point win in the bush, but his team also lost on OT. They watched the AFC championship on TV instead of playing in it.

How close did Green Bay get to possessing the ball on the Cardinal’s 2 in OT? They never touched the ball in OT. They kicked off to the Cards, who took a touchback then needed only three plays to go 80 yards and win the game.

Wrong and cowardly

The standard going for the tie is wrong, cowardly. When you have a chance to win by going for two at the end of a tie game, go for the win. And announcers, stop giving coaches great “courage” credit for doing that. Start criticizing them for making the Ara Parseghian “Tie one for the Gipper” choice instead.

Their damned job is to win the game. Going for the win is their job. They should not be praised for doing their job. They ought to be condemned and fired for not doing it. Fans and announcers need to make going for the tie the cowardly choice in order to make these moral cowards start making the right choice.

100% chance of possession two yards from victory 


50% chance of winning a coin toss and getting initial possession probably 80 yards form victory and 

50% chance of losing the coin toss and having to stop the opponent to get possession also probably about 80 yards away form victory

At Harvard Business School they taught us how to put this on a decision tree to reveal the highest expected value which is the correct choice. Do you really need to go to Harvard Business to recognize the best choice in this rather straight-forward, simple case?

NCAA and high school?

In the NCAA and high school levels, the decision is a bit different because each team is guaranteed possession and the starting point is the 25-yard line in college and the 10 in high school, not “the 80.” So if there is a significant difference between the two teams in terms of goal-line offense performance, the better team in that department is the favorite in OT. But when there is no significant difference, choose the three-yard line, two-point P.A.T. to win over the 10 or 25 OT touchdown or field goal.

Also, in NCAA and high school, you do the opposite when you win the OT coin toss. In the NFL, choose to receive the OT kick; in NCAA and high school, choose to go on defense first. That way, if the opponent fails to score at all on their first possession, you know that all you need to win is a field goal.

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