When your best option is to go for it on fourth and 15, something has gone terribly wrong. Then again, when you’re 2-9, many things haven’t gone according to design.
This is your life, Atlanta Falcons. This is your rotten, sorry, injury riddled, underachieving existence. And on this particular Thursday night in question, the fate of those Falcons rested in a decision between converting those 15 yards on fourth down during a night when Matt Ryan had been permitted about one of the minimum three Mississippis in the pocket, or kicking a field goal and then trying to get the ball back from an offense that had set a single-game record for first downs two weeks ago.
It wasn’t going to end well either way, though Mike Smith still choose poorly.
Scrutinizing clock management and late-game coaching decisions has become its own sort of hobby among Internet folk, especially those with a rudimentary understand of math (which is…all of us? Sure). The fascination is driven by the different permutations that come with each variable: how many timeouts the offense has, where they are on the field, how much time is left, and the down and distance remaining. And then even once the offense advances into field goal range, they need to ensure as little time as possible is left on the clock for the other guy to attempt yet another comeback.
It can get convoluted and far more complicated than those with thoroughly beer soaked shirts at the bar may believe as they shout “GO FUUUUURRRRR ITTTT!”. The problem last night for Mike Smith and his Falcons during an eventual 17-13 loss to New Orleans was two-fold, and all too common for them this year: there was a lack of options presented by the preceding plays, and then when given the choice between two exceedingly poor options, Smith’s choice was unfortunate.
Sacks on two straight drop backs (a theme of pain throughout the evening, as Matt Ryan was sacked five times, three on this final drive, and 2.5 came at the hands of Cameron Jordan) left the Falcons with a difficult third and 15 from the Saints’ 29-yard line while down by four. That turned into an equally difficulty fourth and 15 when they couldn’t even manage to cut the distance in half after an incompletion to Harry Douglas.
So here’s the situation ripe dissection: with four timeouts remaining (their own three, and the two-minute warning) and 2:24 on the clock, the Falcons could either attempt to convert the 15 yards, or ask Matt Bryant to hit a 52-yard field goal. Again, both options were poor, but Smith was swayed by Bryant’s streak from 50 or more yards, a distance he hadn’t missed from since 2009. However, that time period is horribly deceiving, because Bryant only had nine attempts from 50 or more yards during the nearly four-year span.
But there was Smith selecting what was in his mind the better of two horribly evil options, and sending Bryant out. In theory he would take the three points to cut the lead to one. Then by the time the Falcons did something really super easy and stopped Drew Brees to force a three-and-out, there would about 1:30 left. You know, give or take, and only another field goal would be needed this time.
A +50 yard field goal isn’t a gimmie for anyone, but by letting the fate of this game lie with the notion that his defense could get the ball back promptly, Smith was essentially already counting the field goal.
So of course Bryant missed.
Because it’s fun to pretend that icing matters, Sean Payton is heralded as some sort of Nostradamus hero because he did just that to Bryant. I don’t think Bryant — who set a team record for the most successful field goals in a season last year — missed because he thought about the 295th attempt of his career for too long. I think he missed a 52-yard field goal because it was 52 yards.
But really, the process mattered far more than the result, because while a converted field goal clearly would have been nice, a win was unlikely either way with Bryant on the field. The Falcons only true option to win a football game in this scenario — on fourth down, with 2:24 left, and during a drive in which they had already completed passes for 15 and 17 yards — was to gain 15 yards in the pursuit of a touchdown.
Instead, Smith chose what he believed to be the safe option. In truth, he didn’t have a safe option. He had one option.
More notes, stray thoughts, and other such randomness
Jimmy Graham is not a human
Alright so that dissection was great fun, but now on to what really matters: the fantasy fallout.
Both quarterbacks played well, just not great for fake football purposes. Though Ryan completed 76.9 percent of his passes (which is fantastic), he didn’t throw a touchdown pass (which is not). Both of the game’s touchdown passes belonged to Brees, though he threw for only 278 yards. Yes, that’s just sort of OK for Brees, since he’s averaging 331.5 yards per game, and he ended a streak of four +300 yard games.
Those who either flexed Pierre Thomas or handcuffed him to Darren Sproles were rather pleased with his 130 yards on 15 total touches, a pace of 8.7 per touch. But the true hero was Jimmy Graham, because of course he was.
With 100 receiving yards exactly on five receptions (yep, 20 yards per catch), Graham recorded his sixth +100 yard game of the season. That sets a tight end record, and it ties him with A.J. Green this year. Reminder: A.J. Green is a wide receiver.
Also, Graham forgot that he possesses the strength of at least 10 Bamm Bamms.
— Jimmy Graham (@TheJimmyGraham) November 22, 2013
Sad Falcons kid is super sad and super zoomed
(via SB Nation)
Nope, this definitely isn’t exactly the same as the Ahmad Brooks hit
This is all spilled milk or crumbled cookies or however that goes. But yeah, it’s also complete crap…
So Akiem Hicks wasn’t called for doing to Matt Ryan exactly what Ahmad Brooks did to Drew Brees last week. pic.twitter.com/q53K3vDsQa
— ryan wilson (@ryanwilson_07) November 22, 2013
Never change, Gronk
Concluding briefly with some non-TNF matters, my brain is still struggling to compute this. Is this real life? Were these words really said? Why do I exist?
Zo: “What super power would you want?” Gronk: “A time machine. So if I wanted to be in Florida, it’d be like ‘boom’, I’m in Florida.”
— Toucher and Rich (@Toucherandrich) November 22, 2013
I, like others(?), am convinced that Gronk actually has a far more sophisticated grasp of the space-time continuum than we give him credit for. You see, when time machines are invented and commonly in use, we won’t travel back in time. No no, my simple-minded friend. Instead, dials will be set to a specific geographic location in time, but we’ll have no control over exactly what period of time we’re going to, as the portals don’t work that way. It’s a sophisticated system that’s only semi-controlled.
I’m pretty sure this lesson was the primary takeaway we all should have grasped from Lost.
(NOTE: none of that makes sense. Don’t ever try to make sense of anything The Gronk says. Just let it wash over you.)
Gronk’s time machine problems. (From listener Raf Campos). pic.twitter.com/7a48ZmFtPg
— Toucher and Rich (@Toucherandrich) November 22, 2013