By Steve Kallas
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There were two plays during the divisional round of the playoffs that deserve a second look. They were fascinating.
PLAY 1: Saturday, New Orleans at Seattle, 2:48 left in the 4th quarter, Seahawks up 16-8.
You will probably remember the play. Seattle has the ball, first down on the New Orleans 31. The Seahawks were ip eight points and the Saints were out of timeouts. Marshawn Lynch ran the ball to the left, bounced off the line of scrimmage and headed for the end zone. He scored the touchdown with 2:40 left in regulation.
Should he have scored or should he have stopped at the 1 or 2 yard line and given himself up?
It’s a much more interesting question than you might think.
Here’s why: If Lynch falls down in-bounds on the 1 with 2:40 left, Seattle could have let the clock run down to the 2:00 warning Maybe they get an irrelevant 5-yard penalty for delay of game. Russell Wilson could then have taken a knee on first down.
The Seahawks could then have let the clock run down to about 1:20 and Wilson could kneel on second down. Then they could let the clock run down to about 40 seconds left and he could take a knee on third down.
And the game would have ended before the Seahawks would have had to snap the ball on fourth down.
The announcers thought that the touchdown was a fantastic, probable game-winning play. One said, “Marshawn Lynch and the Seahawks may have just punched their ticket to the conference finals.” Another announcer said, “That looks like that will be the dagger.”
So what happened next? New Orleans got the kickoff and went down the field and scored with 26 seconds left. Remember the game was over if Lynch fell down at the 1. Now down eight points, everybody in the stadium knew an on-sides kick was coming.
So the ball bounced off Golden Tate and Marques Colston recovered. After a short pass over the middle and a spike, New Orleans decided to throw a short pass to set up a Hail Mary.
And it worked to perfection as Colston caught the pass right by the sideline at the Seattle 37 with seven or eight seconds left. All he had to do was step out of bounds to set up at least one or maybe two 37-yard throws into the end zone.
Instead, Drew Brees threw an inexplicable forward pass and received a penalty. There was a 10-second runoff and the game was over.
It never seemed to dawn on anybody that Seattle could have run out the clock if Lynch had fallen down at the 1. Was it too much to expect in the heat of a game off a great touchdown run? Maybe.
But in today’s game, a coaching staff really has to look at whether or not you, the offense, should score. Conversely, at times the coaching staff has to look at whether or not you, the defense, should let the other team score. For example, in Super Bowl XLVI, the Patriots were two points late and let the Giants score so they could get the ball back with 57 seconds left. Ahmad Bradshaw apparently tried to stop himself from scoring, but fell into the end zone. Fortunately for the Giants, Tom Brady wasn’t able to work his magic.
If Lynch stops at the 1, the game is over, and nobody seemed to get that. Again, the whole point here is that both teams in situations like this, have to decide, on the one hand, to score or not to score, and, at times, on the other hand, to let a team score or to try and stop them.
PLAY 2: Saturday, Colts at Patriots, 2:44 left in the second quarter, Patriots up 21-10.
You will probably remember this play as well. The Patriots lined up to punt from their own 44. The snap went well over the head of punter Ryan Allen and rolled all the way to the Patriots’ 3.
Ryan scrambled back and got down on one knee as he picked up the ball, as opposed to kicking it out of the end zone for a safety. He tried to do something with it and the ball was knocked out of the end zone by a Colt for a safety.
One announcer inexplicably said the following: “He could have just stayed on the football right there and at least you give your defense a fighting chance.”
A short time later he said, “I mean, there’s just no question about it. Just, you have possession of the football there, get tackled at your own 2-yard line and at least you make the other team work to get into the end zone.”
Well, not exactly.
Without question, the right play would have been for Allen to kick the ball out of the end zone for a safety. In fact, we’ve seen that play over the years, usually when the ball is snapped into the end zone.
As luck would have it, that is, good and bad luck, the Patriots got the desired result. Since the ball was batted out of the end zone, as opposed to the Colts recovering it on the 3 or in the end zone for a touchdown, the Patriots had some good luck.
Of course, the bad luck is that the Patriots’ punter got hurt and they wound up with none other than Brady holding for kicker Stephen Gostkowski the rest of the game.
What if Allen had just fallen down at the 3-yard line? Well, in this situation, you understand the stupidity of that. Either the Colts go in for a touchdown or they kick a chip-shot field goal. The notion that the defense would hold the Colts scoreless from the 3 is borderline ridiculous.
There is one example of a scenario where it would be right to fall down at the 3. If it was very late in the game, with the same situation on the field and your team is up nine or 10 points. In this situation, it would be a wise choice to fall on the ball.
Why? Because if you kick the ball out of the end zone for a safety, your team is up seven or eight points and the other team is guaranteed to receive the ball.
If you fall on it and they go in and score a touchdown, they will either kick off to you or, more likely if it’s very late in the game, try an on-sides kick. Either way, you won’t be giving them the ball.
So, in this situation, you would fall on the ball.
Fascinating stuff, no?
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