A Curious Decision in Baltimore
NFL Week 15 - Trailing by two touchdowns late in the game against the Packers, the Ravens managed to orchestrate an impressive comeback under the direction of backup quarterback Tyler Huntley. With 4:47 remaining in the game, the Ravens had just scored a touchdown to reduce the deficit to eight points and were facing a PAT decision. As we analyzed extensively in our Week 6 Risky Business column, it is clearly correct to attempt a two-point conversion in this situation, with few exceptions. Somewhat surprisingly, Harbaugh chose to deploy the services of Justin Tucker to pull the Ravens within seven points of the Packers.
Harbaugh is one of the most analytically sound coaches in the NFL and certainly was aware of the mathematical merits of going for two in this situation. At that moment, we speculated that the presence of Huntley may have been a key factor in his conservative decision. It now appeared Harbaugh would be playing for overtime if the Ravens were fortunate enough to stop the Packers on the ensuing possession and to score another touchdown. Well, apparently that wasn’t the case.
Inexplicably, the Ravens (unsuccessfully) went for the win after scoring the second touchdown, after shunning that option moments earlier. If you know you are going for the win in regulation, why wouldn’t you attempt the two-point conversion at the first opportunity? With a success you can simply kick the PAT on the second touchdown for the win, and with a failure, you still can go for two and possibly get into overtime. It is also worth noting that the Packers still had 42 seconds and one timeout for Rodgers to move his team into field goal range. However, this scenario exists whether the Ravens tie or take the lead. There could also be an argument that the Packers will be more aggressive if trailing by one than if tied. For instance, they would attempt a long fourth down in their own territory if trailing but run out the clock if tied.
There are three separate decisions to examine:
1. Is it still correct to go for two after the first touchdown with a backup quarterback?
As detailed in our prior analysis, even if the Ravens have only a 35% chance on the two-point conversion and are 45% to win in overtime (as our simulations suggest), it is still clearly correct to go for two.
2. If you know you are going for the win in regulation, is there any reason not to go for two after the first touchdown?
This doesn’t require any math. Unless there was something Harbaugh saw on the second opportunity that wasn’t present on the first one, it simply defies logic.
3. What about the independent decision to go for the win with the two-point conversion after the second touchdown?
EdjSports' custom simulations used a 13% reduction in team passing DVOA and an 8% reduction in team rushing DVOA for Huntley in place of Jackson. With these assumptions, we show it to be a close decision with a slight lean (~2% GWC) toward kicking the PAT.