Sunday, February 7, 2010

The Super Bowl: A whole new animal

A lot was made about New Orlean's coach Sean Payton's decision to go for it on fourth down. He was criticized heavily. Had the play gone successfully, would he have been praised? Probably. But more than that, he wouldn't have felt the heat of several media outlets calling him out for making the right call in that situation. Yes, the right one.

With the Saints having driven roughly 70 yards, facing a fourth and a long one and trailing 10-3 with 2:00 minutes and change remaining in the second, Payton decided to go for it. The offensive call he made was a poor one; a feeble run by Pierre Thomas that was stuffed almost instantly, but going for it in that situation was completely appropriate. Consider: You're facing Manning, the best quarterback of our generation -- given the chance to put up seven in that scenario, you have to go for it. Had Sanchez and the Jets advanced, this would be an entirely different ball game. You could afford to take the three and play it safe keeping the score close. But with Manning under the helm on the opposing sideline, you need to stay in the game by any means necessary.

Suppose you kick it and the score's now 10-6. Manning still had plenty of time to march his unit down the field and score either a field goal or a touchdown. In the case of the former, the score heading into the half would be 13-6; a seven point deficit. If you go for it and fail, yes, you're still down seven (10-3) but the Colts are backed up all the way at their 1. And bear in mind, the Colts would receive possession coming out of halftime.

With regards to the play call, though, why Payton would run Thomas over a Brees pass is beyond me. Here you have the league's most precise passer in the most crucial of plays. He lead the league in touchdowns with 34. Perhaps the call was to throw the Colts defense off, but when the quarterback completes over 70% of his passes (Brees' 70.6% completion rate during the regular season established a new NFL record), an astounding feat, you put it in his hands.

Skeptics argue that, down 10-3, you can't leave points out there when you're facing Manning and the Colts. By passing on seven, you're leaving points out there (four of them), especially with less than two yards to go, a feasible distance.

It's akin to making a move in poker. You can make the right call - in this case, going for it on fourth - but the cards might not fall your way. The Saints lost a chunk of their chips by not scoring, but it was the correct move. It was a calculated risk.

The analysts on the network praised Payton during halftime, including Super Bowl winning coach Bill Cowher.

The Super Bowl, without question, is unlike any other game of the season. You have to make unconventional calls at critical junctures in the game that sometimes defy conservative logic. Forget about being labelled a hero or a goat; you ultimately have to play out the situation.

Not many get the opportunity to play in the elusive dance, and it's a win or lose affair, so to have the intestinal fortitude to play for the win should be something to be admired. Regardless of the outcome of the play.

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