"Going For Two Was Wrong Because It Didn’t Work"

You should all be better than this by now. 

In the 4th quarter on Sunday with 11:47 to go in the game the Packers scored a touchdown to cut the deficit to 23-13. Mike McCarthy opted to go for the 2-point conversion to cut it to a one score game. A few people on my timeline griped about it at the time. I’m not here to talk about those people. I think they were wrong, and that McCarthy made the correct call, but my big problem is with simple-minded ex post facto analysis. People who say “it didn’t work so they shouldn’t have done it” drive me nuts. That is an awful way to evaluate decisions. I had a twitter discussion with Aaron Nagler where he made the following statement:

The “wrong call” according to the chart - proving the chart isn’t always right. Don’t go for 2 until you need to.

That’s obviously wrong. If you need further convincing you should read Bill Barnwell on the subject. He includes actual math AND helpful, insightful commentary. 

But you don’t need fancy math in this instance. If the Packers kick the PAT they know for sure they will need 2 more possessions along with some defensive stops. The defensive stops are probably the most important thing. As you may recall, in the 4th quarter of the most recent Bears game, the Bears were able to put together an almost 9-minute drive at the end of the game to wipe out the clock.

In the very next game against Philly the Eagles killed 9:32 to end the game. 

So when McCarthy reached this point he was probably skeptical that his team would have two more possessions. Especially since the Vikings’ previous possession looked like this (starting with 5:26 remaining in the 3rd):

Adrian Peterson for 7

Adrian Peterson for 5

Toby Gerhart for 15

Toby Gerhart for 6

Incomplete to Carlson

Complete to Jennings for 8

Toby Gerhart for 26

Toby Gerhart for 11

Adrian Peterson for 1

Adrian Peterson for 1

Complete to Patterson for 5

Blair Walsh FG.

Total elapsed time: 6:02

On their drive after the failed 2-point converstion, the Vikings started out like this:

Adrian Peterson for 5

Adrian Peterson for 17

Adrian Peterson for 3

Ponder then threw an incomplete pass and a completion to Patterson that lost 3 yards. There’s a decent argument to be made that that 2nd down pass attempt cost the Vikings the game.

The chart says to go for two when you’re down by 10 in the 4th, but the situation screamed at them to go for 2. Sometimes good processes lead to bad results. That doesn’t mean the processes were flawed, it means you’re playing a game with a lot of randomness and uncertainty.

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