Monday, May 23

Examining Frank Reich’s controversial decisions in the Colts’ playoff loss to the Bills

To be honest, it’s not a great day to be Frank.

The Colts suffered a 27-24 playoff loss to the Bills on Saturday, and there was a lot built into that score: reviews, discussions of 2-point conversions, challenges, and points left on the field all made headlines in the wild card thriller.

Even though the scoreboard stayed as it did, some people were left wondering what head coach Frank Reich was thinking all afternoon. While the Colts barely came up short, the game was determined by their last series with just over two minutes to go, there were a few different situations that played out that left their fans scratching their heads.

Indianapolis made it competitive in the end, but the loss made people very angry at Reich. Here’s a breakdown of three of their debated decisions:

Did not kick the field goal before the half

If you believe in “momentum,” then the Colts had a lot of him heading into halftime.

With a 10-7 lead, the Colts opted to do it on a quarter and goal from the 4-yard line, aiming for a touchdown rather than easy points from within five. The fourth-down play missed, and the Bills then marched down the field 96 yards to take a 14-10 lead heading into halftime.

Reich’s supposed reasoning is solid: the reason the touchdown is sought in that situation is out of respect for the Bills’ offense, one of the best in football. Having to get ahead of them is key, and Bills’ subsequent driveline was indicative of that offense: It was 96 yards in a minute and a half for the score.

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While it’s unfair to expect the game to play out exactly the way it did if Indy actually kicked the field goal, those three points may have been the gap in the final score.

Questionable fourth quarter challenge

The Colts had no timeouts left as they took over with just over two minutes left in the game, and a questionable and eventually unsuccessful challenge left Reich and Indy with only one timeout for the rest of the game.

Bills running back Zack Moss lost control of the ball in the fourth quarter, eventually having to be retired, but Moss’s knee was clearly down before the ball came loose on his attempted attack. As Moss was served, Reich raised his red flag, leading to a failed challenge and the Colts were given a timeout.

On the last drive of the game, Indianapolis had a chance to score to put them ahead or tie. Unfortunately, they were also unable to work in the middle of the field to put them in a better position, since they had no time-outs left; an almost direct result of Reich’s questionable defiance earlier in the frame.

Instead, quarterback Philip Rivers was left working on the sidelines, a strategy that, well, he might not want in 2021.

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Try for two points in the fourth

Surprisingly, Reich’s decision to attempt a 2-point conversation in the fourth quarter with a 24-16 deficit is easily the most defensible thing on the list.

The analytics experts make it clear: Assuming you have to at least score another touchdown while in that situation to keep up with the Bills, going for two makes sense. This is why:

  • A successful two-point try in that situation (bringing the score to 24-18), means that a later touchdown would tie the game at 24 (assuming the score holds), with an extra point putting you one point up -24) and put yourself in the lead.
  • A failed 2-point attempt (24-16) means you have to play for the draw, anyway, so you would have to go for the 2-point conversion at the end of the game regardless.

ESPN’s Seth Walder explains that the odds of failing two 2-point conversions are not high. So it was actually the right decision, if you look at the numbers.

So the most defensible turns out to be the most controversial, but none of the decisions equaled a W for the Colts on Sunday.

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