Krykslants: Colts coach defends fatefully flawed fourth-down call

“We’re not playing to tie,” first-year NFL head coach Frank Reich said defiantly.

In so doing, his Indianapolis Colts lost.

It’s a short step between being aggressively brash on fourth down and recklessly stupid. Which was Reich? Tough call.

But taking such a chance to win becomes a bad thing if it means losing becomes likelier than tying.

Follow along. Here was Sunday’s scenario:

The Colts had wiped out a 28-10 home-field deficit in the third quarter to take the previous winless Houston Texans into overtime at 31-31, thanks to the incredibly heroic passing of Andrew Luck, whose throwing arm and shoulder are just fine, thank you very much.

After each team kicked a field goal in the 10-minute OT, Indy had the ball with 27 seconds left, facing 4th-and-four from its own 43. Luck and the offence lined up as if to go for it, but soon it was clear they were just trying to pull the Texans defence offside.

Then Indy called timeout. Reich huddled with his offensive players.

If they went for the first down and failed, they’d give the Texans the ball at the Indy 43, with only 10 or so yards needed to reach game-winning field-goal range, and enough time to do so.

But if the Colts punted, the game almost certainly would end in a tie, as the Texans would have got the ball at about their own 20 with 20 or so seconds to play.

Reich sent Luck and the offence back on to the field, whereupon the QB threw low and incomplete to receiver Chester Rogers on a short comebacker to the right, between the numbers and the sideline.

With 24 seconds left, from the Indy 43, Texans’ second-year QB Deshaun Watson then fired a quick slant to 2017 first-team all-Pro receiver DeAndre Hopkins, from the left slot. Inexplicably the Colts had a linebacker (Darius Leonard) covering Hopkins, who unsurprisingly burst free, caught Watson’s zipped-in pass and raced up a seam to the Indy 19, for a 24-yard gain. Watson ran up and spiked the ball with four seconds left.

Ka’imi Fairbairn then drilled a 37-yard field goal as time expired to win it for the Texans, 37-34.

Both teams thus are 1-3, tied in the AFC South cellar. Had Reich opted to punt it, it’s highly likely the Colts would be 1-2-1, a game ahead of the 0-3-1 Texans.

Even if Luck and Rogers had connected, Indy still would have been about 15 yards from Adam Vinatieri’s field-goal range, with 20-some seconds left.

So Reich regrets the decision, right?

Wrong.

“We’re going for it 10 times out of 10,” he said afterwards. “In a perfect scenario, we just go for it and don’t call timeout. But that’s not how it played out. That’s on me.

“I need to not flinch there and we need to get it done. Ideal situation is we don’t call a timeout, because you’re probably not going to draw them offside. The only second-guessing is: Do I just go with it right away without talking it through?”

Colts players had their coach’s back afterwards.

“I loved it. We had a discussion before the play and I agreed,” Luck said of the fourth-down decision, per Bob Kravitz of WTHR.com. “I didn’t give Chester enough of a chance to make a play, and I’m sick to my stomach about it.”

Fans at football games always loudly cheer a coach’s decision to go for it on 4th-and-short, because: We’ll make it! Every time! And because punts aren’t brave, punts aren’t heroic. Boooo, punts.

But sometimes punts are smarter. Because ties are better than losses. And in September? Always.

FIVE FAST FACTS

Luck became just the second NFL player to lose despite throwing for 450+ yards, four TDs and no interceptions, per ESPN Stats & Info … The Dallas defence is allowing the fewest yards per first-down play (3.63) … San Fran QB C.J. Beathard has completed the longest pass this season, an 82-yard scoring strike to George Kittle … Oakland’s Marshawn Lynch leads the AFC in rushing with 300 yards … Atlanta’s Julio Jones tops the NFL with 502 receiving yards but still hasn’t caught a TD from Matt Ryan.

TAKING A KNEE

One NFL offence that, overall, is even worse than Arizona’s is Buffalo’s. Across the board it’s about as bad as bad gets.

And it’s not all on struggling rookie quarterback Josh Allen. Buffalo’s problems are far deeper, far more pervasive, far more concerning. As the following gloomy stats confirm:

Through one-quarter of the NFL season, the AFC East team ranks last in the NFL in yards gained per play (4.03), yards per first-down play (2.99), passing net yards per game (133), passing net yards per play (4.4), percentage of passes intercepted (20.2%), sacks per pass play (15%) and third-down efficiency (24.1%).

The Bills’ 22-0 loss Sunday in Green Bay again revealed all manner of Buffalonian warts, on both sides of the ball. The team’s 22-year-old passer had a bad game, even for such an NFLer in his third start, at Green Bay.

In completing just 16 of 33 for 151 yards and no TDs against two interceptions and seven sacks, Allen’s pass efficiency rating was a downright dismal 36.3. Yet, if equivalent ratings existed for offensive line play, receiver play and rushing, Allen’s number might stand highest. It ain’t all on the kid, y’know.

The O-line gave him almost no time to go through his read progressions. Bills running backs LeSean McCoy and Chris Ivory gained 39 yards on 11 carries. And his receivers, led by last year’s gigantic bust of a trade pickup Kelvin Benjamin, seldom got open until garbage time, and seldom fought hardest for 50/50 balls.

Clearly, Allen lost poise as he took more and more poundings from Packers defenders, some of whom slammed into him unobstructed. Who wouldn’t lose his poise?

“I’ve got to be better,” Allen said. “The offence has got to be better, starting with me … I take this one on my shoulders.”

Surely, his coaches rightly will spread blame thickly beyond their new quarterback.

“I’m going to go evaluate it all,” Bills head coach Sean McDermott said. “Any time you don’t put up points, you’re going to look at everything … We’ll continue to get this thing (on offence) going here as the season progresses.

“We’ve got to make sure we’re winning the 1-on-1s. That’s what the game comes down to.”

The Bills aren’t winning anything often enough of offence, in 1-on-1s or in anything — coaching and game-planning included — to deserve to be anything but where they find themselves, both in the standings (1-3, tied for last in their division) and in statistical rankings.

Next up for the Bills: The Tennessee Titans, who two weeks ago held the Jacksonville Jaguars without a touchdown in a 9-6 win, and on Sunday limited Carson Wentz and the Philadelphia Eagles to 20 regulation-time points in a 26-23 OT win.

“We’ve got to be better on the offensive side of the ball,” Allen said.

Mmm-hmmm. Much.

OFFENCE EQUALS WIN

What’s worse, having the NFL’s worst offence or worst defence?

Through one-fourth of the NFL season, the answer is resounding.

The team that ranks last in total offence, Arizona, is the league’s only remaining winless team, at 0-4.

And the team ranked last in total defence, Kansas City, was one of only two remaining undefeated teams, at least before the Chiefs’ game on Monday night at Denver.

So, defence shmefence? Not quite.

You will recall that a year ago at this time, the Chiefs similarly were running up huge yardage and point totals on everyone, including defending Super Bowl champion New England and eventual Super Bowl champion Philadelphia.

Kansas City’s bad 2017 defence, however, caught up by late in the season, and was at least as responsible as the sputtering offensive attack for its second-half collapse in January’s wild-card playoff loss to Tennessee.

The Cardinals, meantime, are really struggling to score. In any way. That was the case when veteran QB Sam Bradford started the first three games, and occurred again Sunday with No. 10 overall rookie draft pick Josh Rosen at the helm for the first time as starter, in a 20-17 loss to Seattle.

The lone offensive bright spot was Rosen, first-year Cardinals head coach Steve Wilks said.

How does 0-4 feel?

“It feels bad,” Wilks said. “This is not what we expected. This is not even close to what we expected.”

NUMBERS ADDING UP FOR BROWNS

Despite Sunday’s gutting overtime loss in Oakland, things really are looking up for the Cleveland Browns.

First, they’re 1-2-1, a hair from being 2-1-1.

Secondly, rookie quarterback Baker Mayfield has shown a ton of promise, as well as expected rawness, after six quarters of play.

But consider these facts too:

— The Browns lead the NFL with 13 takeaways, the club’s most through Week 4 since 1989. Seven of those takeaways are interceptions, the same number the team had all of last year.

— The Browns lead the NFL in turnover differential, with plus-seven. Cleveland finished 2017 at minus-28.

— The Browns’ 42 points in their OT loss to the Raiders were the franchise’s most in a game in 11 years, and fourth most since the club’s rebirth in 1999.

— Mayfield’s 295 passing yards were the fifth most in an NFL debut start, after Cam Newton in 2011 (422 with Carolina), Vinny Testaverde in 1987 (369 with Tampa Bay), Andrew Luck in 2012 (309 with Indianapolis) and Peyton Manning in 1998 (302 with Indianapolis).

HOW EXACTLY DID THE FALCONS LOSE?

Only four times since 1940, according to Scott Kacsmar of FootballOutsiders.com, has an NFL team scored 36 or more points at home without a turnover … and lost.

Two of those instances have occurred on the past two Sundays — by the same team. The Atlanta Falcons.

The Falcons fell Sept. 23 to the New Orleans Saints, 43-37 in overtime, then lost even more heartbreakingly this past Sunday to the Cincinnati Bengals, 37-36, when A.J. Green caught a 13-yard pass from Andy Dalton with seven seconds remaining.

Atlanta is 1-3, with a defence ravaged by injuries and an offence that still can’t figure out how to get Pro Bowl receiver Julio Jones into the end zone with the football.

And how’d you like to be Falcons QB Matt Ryan? Over these two games he completed 73% of his passes for 793 yards, eight touchdowns and no interceptions — for a combined 143.6 passer rating, without victory.

“There’s 12 football games in front of us,” Ryan said Sunday. “A lot of football to be played. A lot of things we’ve done in the first four weeks have been solid, but we have to be better for it. We have to be better moving forward.”

QUARTERBACK RANKINGS

All 32 starting QBs, after Sunday games:

  1. Tom Brady, New England. (1) Much better, but had two picks.
  2. Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay. (2) Looks healed from knee sprain.
  3. Drew Brees, New Orleans. (3) Good. And 2 TDs dropped, too.
  4. Russell Wilson, Seattle. (4) Needs help … so badly.
  5. Philip Rivers, LA Chargers. (5). Solid again. Never better?
  6. Jared Goff, LA Rams. (7) Simply spectacular. Every week.
  7. Matthew Stafford, Detroit. (6) If he only had a run game.
  8. Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh. (8) Water’s in the gas tank.
  9. Matt Ryan, Atlanta. (9) Yet ANOTHER frustratingly late loss.
  10. Carson Wentz, Philadelphia. (10) Not his fault D collapsed.
  11. Patrick Mahomes, Kansas City. (11) Played Monday night.
  12. Kirk Cousins, Minnesota. (12) Big bounce-back at Rams.
  13. Derek Carr, Oakland. (13) At crunch time made great plays.
  14. Andy Dalton, Cincinnati. (14) The reason Bengals are 3-1.
  15. Andrew Luck, Indianapolis. (16) 464 yards, 4 TDs? Arm’s fine.
  16. Cam Newton, Carolina. (15) Panthers had the week off.
  17. Joe Flacco, Baltimore. (20) Shone 2012 form at Pittsburgh.
  18. Alex Smith, Washington. (19) Redskins had the week off.
  19. Marcus Mariota, Tennessee. (24). Two impressive comebacks.
  20. Deshaun Watson, Houston. (22) Three straight with 300+.
  21. Eli Manning, NY Giants. (21) Just not making big plays.
  22. Ryan Fitzpatrick, Tampa Bay. (18) Crashed back to earth.
  23. Dak Prescott, Dallas. (26) Needed that big of a game.
  24. Ryan Tannehill, Miami. (23) No longer believe he’s legit.
  25. Blake Bortles, Jacksonville. (25) Good Blake this week.
  26. Mitchell Trubisky, Chicago. (28) Six TDs! Corner turned?
  27. Case Keenum, Denver. (27) Played Monday night.
  28. Baker Mayfield, Cleveland. (29) Lots of good. Lots to learn.
  29. Josh Allen, Buffalo. (30) Awful supporting cast, awful day.
  30. Josh Rosen, Arizona. (NR) Not bad for his first career start.
  31. Sam Darnold, NY Jets. (31) Struggled again. Concerns are real.
  32. C.J. Beathard, San Francisco. (NR) Actually OK vs. Chargers.

THIS WEEK

Quick thoughts on Week 5 games (all on Sunday unless noted):

  • Colts at Patriots, Thursday, 8:20 ET: One-dimensional Colts on a short week? In Foxboro? No.
  • Titans at Bills, 1ET: Mariota might not need another late drive to secure this win.
  • Giants at Panthers, 1ET: New York desperately needs this one. But Carolina is rested coming off bye.
  • Dolphins at Bengals, 1ET: Two 3-1 teams. Bengals seem legit. Dolphins definitely do not.
  • Ravens at Browns, 1ET: After so impressive a win at Pittsburgh, can Baltimore keep it going?
  • Packers at Lions, 1ET: If Detroit wants to be taken seriously in ’18 it must win this one.
  • Jaguars at Chiefs, 1ET: AFC game of the year so far? Yeah, it’s shaping up that way.
  • Broncos at Jets, 1ET: Sam Darnold struggling. Long year ahead? Looks like it.
  • Falcons at Steelers, 1ET: Two wins between them entering October. Wow. Loser’s in big trouble.
  • Raiders at Chargers, 4:05 ET: Two mistake-prone teams with sharp QBs, shaky defences.
  • Vikings at Eagles, 4:25 ET: Rematch of the NFC title game. But Cousins vs. Wentz, not Keenum vs. Foles.
  • Cardinals at 49ers, 4:25 ET: Battle to keep out of the NFC West basement. Flip a coin.
  • Rams at Seahawks, 4:25 ET: Boy, has the dynamic of this rivalry ever changed. Like, 180 degrees.
  • Cowboys at Texans, 8:20 ET: Prime-time battle of Texas. Yee-haw.
  • Redskins at Saints, Monday, 8:15 ET: Whichever team can ground-and-pound the best, wins.

BYES: Bears, Buccaneers.

[email protected]

@JohnKryk

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