Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

25 Nov 2013

ESPN: Bill Belichick Makes It Okay To Take the Wind

It finally happened. It took 34 games, but Bill Belichick obliged me.

As I've been writing all season in Clutch Encounters, I wanted to see a coach win the overtime coin toss and choose to kick the ball. As our own Aaron Schatz found out during the postgame press conference, Belichick's decision was purely about taking the wind.

Cursed by Marty Mornhinweg, maybe other coaches will see it's okay now. The new overtime system makes it very hard for the receiving team to win right away. While Belichick says it was all about the wind, I wonder if the strategy would have been different had Peyton Manning been playing better. At Insider we look at the myth of Manning in the cold.

Since many people seem to be getting these stats wrong, here's an updated table of every game Manning's played when the temperature was 40 degrees or less:

Some of these games I'm not familiar with at all, but I know the common trend in the 20-3 NE loss, last night's loss and the Baltimore playoff loss is Manning's receivers could not create separation, forcing tight throws into coverage with little-to-no YAC. The wind is a bigger issue than the cold itself, but small windows into the wind is the biggest problem of them all. We haven't seen the last of this with Denver's offense either.

As for New England, what the Patriots exhibited against Denver was their competitiveness. Most teams fail to make it interesting after 24-0, but the Patriots can. They had a similar game against San Francisco last year, tying the game after falling behind 31-3. It's comebacks like these that keep an incredible streak alive.

Including the playoffs, the Patriots have gone 57 consecutive games where they either had a lead/tie in the fourth quarter (or overtime) or trailed by one score (1-8 points) in the fourth quarter. Consider it the "no blowouts" streak, since they were technically one score away from their opponent late in the game.

That's one of the longest streaks in the Super Bowl era. The only longer documented streaks belong to Mike McCarthy's 2008-12 Green Bay Packers -- they went 69 games from 2008 until a 38-10 loss at the Giants last season -- and the 1988-92 San Francisco 49ers (63 games).

The last team to bury the Patriots was Cleveland in 2010. The Patriots could do no better than a 27-14 fourth-quarter deficit and lost 34-14. It's been all wins or close losses since then.

Sunday put the streak on life support, but we should know by now when Manning and Brady meet, conventional endings are not good enough. With two of the greatest competitors in NFL history, there has to be a comeback attempt. There has to be drama.

Maybe Manning-Brady XV will be the long-desired shootout, but eleven fumbles and one bold overtime decision are some of the defining moments worth remembering from XIV.

Posted by: Scott Kacsmar on 25 Nov 2013

31 comments, Last at 28 Nov 2013, 6:31am by Guest789

Comments

1
by Perfundle :: Mon, 11/25/2013 - 3:49pm

Well, if you're going to allow up to 8-point deficits anytime in the 4th, I guess Seattle has the second-longest active streak at 43.

As for the decision, it was only made because there actually was a strong wind that happened to be blowing down one direction of the field; I don't know how many times that will be the case in overtime games.

2
by Scott Kacsmar :: Mon, 11/25/2013 - 3:54pm

"Well, if you're going to allow up to 8-point deficits anytime in the 4th, I guess Seattle has the second-longest active streak at 43."

Yes, that's right. That's also getting to be one of the longest streaks.

Even if there's not a strong wind, coaches need to understand the pros and cons of new overtime. The Packers handled that first drive yesterday as if it was the old system. Not going for it on 4th-and-goal from the two was downright foolish. McCarthy won the coin toss and was given the advantage of being able to end the game first, but he did not try to capitalize on it.

25
by EricL :: Tue, 11/26/2013 - 1:48pm

And, Russell Wilson's personal streak is now up to 57 games going back to his sophomore year at NC State.

3
by jonnyblazin :: Mon, 11/25/2013 - 4:51pm

I think John Harbaugh had much more reason to take the wind in Chicago last week, but declined to do so. The winds were blowing much stronger (40-50 mph), and the offenses were much worse. But that's why he's a traditional, conservative, think-inside-the-box type HC and Belichick is Belichick.

4
by Revenge of the NURBS (not verified) :: Mon, 11/25/2013 - 5:23pm

Harbaugh said he considered taking the wind, but decided not to because the coaches couldn't even agree on which direction it was blowing. Tells you how much the wind was swirling.

12
by jonnyblazin :: Mon, 11/25/2013 - 7:51pm

"Harbaugh said he considered taking the wind, but decided not to because the coaches couldn't even agree on which direction it was blowing."

That's called covering his ass. The Bears didn't attempt a pass in the 3rd quarter, it was pretty obvious they were not interested in throwing in that direction.

And the Bears offense scored 7 points in the second half, vs. 3 points on offense in the first half. I'd hardly call that a juggernaut. But I guess they were slightly improving.

13
by tuluse :: Mon, 11/25/2013 - 7:56pm

They had 3 actual drives in the 2nd half vs 6 in the first half.

16
by jonnyblazin :: Mon, 11/25/2013 - 10:09pm

True. That doesn't seem like enough info to say if their offense was getting stronger or not. One thing is for certain: they scored all their points going in one direction, i.e. with the wind. I'm not arguing anything about the overall quality of the Bears offense, I'm just saying I think Harbaugh erred in taking the ball, Chicago didn't do much going in one direction all day. Comparing this decision with Belichick's, you should be comparing the Bears offense to the Broncos to make the analogy apt.

18
by tuluse :: Mon, 11/25/2013 - 10:55pm

I agree with you. Given how the game had played out, it was obvious the Bears could only pass in one direction.

I just wanted to point out the Bears offense has been good this year. Not just good for the Bears but actually good.

5
by tuluse :: Mon, 11/25/2013 - 5:38pm

Over the course of this year Chicago's offense has been better than New England's.

8
by MJK :: Mon, 11/25/2013 - 5:50pm

But how had it been in that particular game?

10
by tuluse :: Mon, 11/25/2013 - 6:09pm

Depends which way the wind was blowing :)

Seriously though, the offense got stronger as the game went on. In the second half, the Ravens only forced a single 3 and out. You always have to be careful about making decisions based on a sub-set of information when you have more.

9
by RickD :: Mon, 11/25/2013 - 6:09pm

The Patriots' offense over the past three games has been much better than it was early in the season.

11
by In_Belichick_We... :: Mon, 11/25/2013 - 6:30pm

A lot of options in the passing game now that guys are healthy.
Vareen really adds a dimension to the Pat's passing game. Obviously the return of Gronk a few weeks ago was huge but the extra dimension added by Vareen's return is the final piece. They really don't have a decent pass catching back other than Vareen.

6
by MJK :: Mon, 11/25/2013 - 5:49pm

Irregardless of the wind (i.e. in a close stadium), the decision should entirely rest on how likely you think the other team is to get a TD on their first OT possession. If the receiving team gets a TD, they win. In every other outcome of the receiving team's first drive, the second team has the subsequent advantage. If they get a FG, you know you need to play 4 downs until you get to FG range and then you can go for a TD to win and failing that, kick the FG to stay alive. If they don't get a FG, then you get the first possession of true sudden death. If they commit a saftey, you win.

A strong wind only swings the logic further in your favor--not only because it decreases the chance of a first-possession TD, but also because it magnifies the subsequent advantages if that TD does not occur.

15
by Guest789 :: Mon, 11/25/2013 - 9:43pm

I'm not usually a grammar nazi, but please please please tell me you used "irregardless" sarcastically or ironically.

-----

“Treat a man as he is, and he will remain as he is. Treat a man as he could be, and he will become what he should be.”

21
by Cythammer (not verified) :: Tue, 11/26/2013 - 12:56am

Does it really matter? I think you're literally making a mountain out of a molehill.

But seriously, 'irregardless' is a word, even if maybe it shouldn't be. It's not ungrammatical.

22
by Ryan D. :: Tue, 11/26/2013 - 9:15am

It's a perfectly cromulent word.

31
by Guest789 :: Thu, 11/28/2013 - 6:31am

And if I really wanted to be a dick, I could point out your use of the word "literally" ;)

-----

“Treat a man as he is, and he will remain as he is. Treat a man as he could be, and he will become what he should be.”

7
by tballgame (not verified) :: Mon, 11/25/2013 - 5:50pm

The key to receiving has to be the touchdown. If you receive the ball first, you need to be confident you can score a TD on the opening drive. If you are not, you want to kick away if you are confident you can keep the other team from scoring a TD on the opening drive. If the receiving team is held to a FG or no points, the kicking team receives a significant advantage. It knows if it only needs to play for a FG to win. If a FG was surrendered, it knows it needs to go for it on 4th downs at least until FG range is achieved. The kicking team has a superior information position.

14
by Michael LaRocca (not verified) :: Mon, 11/25/2013 - 8:13pm

The answer, my friend, is blowin in the wind.
The answer is blowin in the wind.

17
by Scott C :: Mon, 11/25/2013 - 10:38pm

Any way the wind blows,
Doesn't really matter,
to me.... to-oo meeeeee

19
by TB (not verified) :: Mon, 11/25/2013 - 11:08pm

BB+TB>any wind

20
by TB (not verified) :: Mon, 11/25/2013 - 11:09pm

BB+TB>any wind +PM

23
by In_Belichick_We... :: Tue, 11/26/2013 - 11:30am

If I remember correctly, the two teams combined for 38 points going into the wind and 20 points going with the wind.
Must be something about a cold wind blowing up the arse that causes fumbles.

24
by Bruce Bobbins (not verified) :: Tue, 11/26/2013 - 12:01pm

You just proved it. 32 degrees and colder and he is 3-7.

28
by Scott Kacsmar :: Tue, 11/26/2013 - 3:33pm

Come on man. You could at least remove the two highlighted games where he didn't even finish the first half.

29
by Anonymousse (not verified) :: Tue, 11/26/2013 - 3:43pm

If you look at the rest of his career minus these games, his passer rating is just under 100 (15 points higher), his completion percentage is 3% higher, etc.

Seems pretty real to me.

30
by Scott Kacsmar :: Tue, 11/26/2013 - 4:01pm

I see nothing more than 5 bad games from a QB who's played 255 games since 1998.

26
by Hurt Bones :: Tue, 11/26/2013 - 2:41pm

Scott,

Where are you getting the temperatures from? They are a lot different than the temperatures I see at PFR.

27
by Scott Kacsmar :: Tue, 11/26/2013 - 3:01pm

The top of the first page of official NFL gamebooks. I'm not sure where PFR gets their weather data from.