I may be in the minority, but Falcons head coach Mike Smith made the better decision in overtime yesterday. For those of you who didn’t see, the Falcons went for it on 4th and inches in overtime against the Saints from their own 29. They failed to convert, and eventually lost when the Saints kicked a field goal off the turnover.
It didn’t work this time, but it was the right decision.
The Falcons are in the playoff race. They’re an above average football team, but not elite. To win the Super Bowl, you need to be one of two things: the best team, or a team that tricks themselves into thinking they are – the former example being the 2009 Saints and the latter the 2007 Giants.
The 4th and inches was an opportunity for Mike Smith to convey to his team, “We are an elite team. I have confidence in you. We can do this.”
More often than not, professional football teams will convert 4th and inches. For argument’s sake, I’d say 60% are converted. That number is not official, but the actual number is not under 50%. I’ll guarantee that.
In that case, theoretically the Falcons should pick up the first down. Simply by doing so, even if they still were to lose, shows the team what they could do under immense pressure when expected to make a play. Maybe they drive down the field and win the game. Maybe they proceed to go three and out and punt it away.
But the confidence the Falcons would have gained by converting and eventually winning would have outweighed the disappointment felt by yesterday’s outcome. Even if they convert and ultimately lose, the confidence boost is a mini-victory. If you want to win the Super Bowl and you’re not the best team in the league, you need to fill the void with confidence.
After the game, the unanimous reaction from the players was their coach made the right decision, but they needed to do a better job executing. They’re not lying for the cameras. Winning teams are relentless in aggression. Winning teams think they can do anything. The Falcons players are not going to keel over and feel they aren’t good enough to convert a 4th and inches – at any time or at anywhere on the field. Their coach gave them a chance to prove it.
Let’s say the Falcons punt it away, and the Saints march right down the field and win the game. Now, Coach Smith feels like he didn’t even give his team a chance to prove themselves. You start to play the “what-if” game, and everyone reconsiders the punt.
You may be reading this saying, “Corey, you don’t go for it in overtime that deep in your own territory. It’s idiotic.” If that’s the case, think of the message it sends to the other 31 teams if you convert. It shows Coach Smith is crazy, and he may do anything at any time. It’s now a unique advantage the Falcons have over all other teams – the label of “crazy.”
The overall pros of going for it in yesterday’s case outweigh the cons. Coach Smith made an educated gamble that unfortunately didn’t work. But if it had, the Falcons may have gone into week 11 6-3 atop the NFC South with the Titans, Vikings, and Texans upcoming. Three very winnable games could have put the Falcons at 9-3.
More importantly, it would have made them feel unstoppable.
I commend Mike Smith for his guts. He made the right coaching decision, and if given the opportunity, he should make the same one. Yesterday, his team let him down, not the other way around.