Broncos Botch Final Drives

The Broncos were heavy favorites at home against the Ravens on Saturday. Peyton Manning and company had won 11-straight and were the favorite to take home the Lombardi trophy. Ray Lewis and Mr. Elite himself, Joe Flacco, had other ideas in mind. Despite being up a touchdown with the ball, having Peyton Manning on the field, and the Ravens out of timeouts at the two-minute warning, the Broncos gave the Ravens back the ball. Rahim Moore undercut a floater worse than any NFL safety should and Jacoby Jones walked into the end zone to tie the game.

In a tie game, the Broncos started their final drive on their own 20 with 0:31 seconds remaining and two timeouts in hand. John Fox says, "Let's take it to overtime" and has potentially the greatest quarterback ever kneel down instead of trying for the game-winning field goal. That wasn't the first time the Broncos made this mistake. In fact, they made an eerily similar gaffe at the end of the first half. After missing a field goal and allowing a long Torrey Smith touchdown, the Broncos received the ball at the 20 with 0:36 seconds left and three timeouts. John Fox ran the ball one time and headed to the locker room. The only real explanation is that Fox believes momentum has predictive power. His thought process was probably that after two huge plays from Baltimore, the only thing that could come from an attempted 30-second drive is a game-changing mistake.


Let's look at the facts. The Broncos have Peyton Manning at the helm. They are playing at Mile High which adds about 5-yards to field goal range. The Broncos have 2+ timeouts in both situations. At the end of regulation, if it's tied, you go to overtime where there is a 50% chance of winning the game. According to Brian's win probability calculator, the initial win probability of the final drive was 54% (if you include the fact that it was played at Mile High).

I pulled all the drives that started between 20 and 40 seconds left in the game with 2+ timeouts, in a 3-point to 0-point deficit range (those ranges where a field goal would be the primary goal of the offense) since 2000 where the offense did not just kneel or run the ball into the end of the game. It was also limited to those drives that started inside a team's own 30-yard line. I found 21 such drives, here were the results:


First thing to note is that 21 is not a huge sample size, but at least it provides a baseline for an analysis of the Broncos decision. Out of the 21 drives, seven resulted in a field goal attempt and only one of those was from over 60 yards. One drive resulted in a huge mistake and ultimate loss (Donovan McNabb threw an interception in a tie game which ultimately resulted in a Redskins game-winning field goal). For those 16 drives with no score (including the field goal misses), there is no difference to just kneeling down. In other words, there is no downside, both result in a 50% chance of winning the game as it goes to overtime.

I could have pulled similar situations at the end of the first half, which would have increased the sample size and allowed us a better look at the first half decision to just run the ball, but I wanted to focus especially on the end-of-game scenario where score was the primary factor. These results would suggest that if a team decided to go for the win, it would result in about a 57% chance of winning the game. Add Peyton Manning into the mix and that number certainly increases.

Last game of the season, can't hold anything back.

Oh, and the Atlanta Falcons started their final drive at the 28-yard line with 31 seconds left and two timeouts, and they kicked a go-ahead game-winning field goal (essentially the identical situation). C'mon, John.

Keith Goldner is the creator of Drive-By Football, and Chief Analyst at numberFire.com - The leading fantasy sports analytics platform.  Follow him on twitter @drivebyfootball or check out numberFire on Facebook

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21 Responses to “Broncos Botch Final Drives”

  1. Anonymous says:

    I watched this with disgust for the decision-making.

    Don't forget the call by BAL to NOT go for two on the final TD. They SHOULD have gone for the win with a running play, rather than play for the OT. 60% odds of winning right there rather than the 50/50 of OT.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Where are you getting 60% chance of converting a 2-pt. conversion attempt?

  3. Anonymous says:

    http://www.advancednflstats.com/2010/12/almost-always-go-for-2-point.html

    Via running play, it's over 60%.

  4. Michael Beuoy says:

    I think John Fox made the wrong decision, but I believe the wind was against him, which probably factored into his decision (although that's like Mr. Burns pulling Daryl Strawberry out of the game for Homer Simpson because Darly was a lefty - you can over think these things).

    My memory may be a bit off, but I recall the exact same thing happening to a Peyton Manning led team in the 2000 playoffs. The Dolphins had tied the game up with 34 seconds left. As I remember it, Jim Mora either had Manning take a knee, or they ran the ball once and let the clock run out.

    The game went to overtime, Vandershank missed a 49 yarder, and the Dolphins won on a Lamar Smith touchdown run.

  5. Anonymous says:

    I couldn't believe my eyes on those calls. Particularly because they both immediately followed the Ravens going a greater distance (for a TD, no less) in roughly the same amount of time.

  6. byesac says:

    I wanted to hear your analysis of the Ravens' decision to go for it on 4th and 6 with 3:some odd left in the game rather than kick the FG. Moot point now, though.

  7. Anonymous says:

    Fox coached our panthers and was always inclined to be conservative and not take risks. Of course he didn't have Manning at QB but old habits are hard to change.
    Looking at the various games it seems that coaches are going to have to adapt to the fact that offenses can put out lots of points quick. 30 seconds with current offenses is forever especially with a couple of time outs. Coaches that don't change and start to take risks will not win many playoff games.
    Fox's choice to rush 3 on the Ravens' final TD seems a bit too conservative.

  8. James E. Powell says:

    Broncos should have been more focused on getting a first down when they had the ball and the lead. Play action on first down struck me as a good choice. Get another first down and the game is over. No punt, no heroes.

  9. Keith Goldner says:

    Byesac-

    I remember looking at that, was going to do a write up on it before the Denver decisions. League-average baseline has it as a coin flip (14% expected win probability both going for it and attempting the field goal). Because it's in Denver, it probably moves it ever so slightly toward kicking the field goal (field goal odds increase a solid amount).

  10. General-Specific says:

    The coaches know a lot more about football than I do, but at these in game decision points they are just cover your eyes awful. I cannot believe no owners have clamped down on this yet. A win has got to be worth a million at least.

    They might be doing 95% of their job at the highest level possible, but this 5% of it they do with all the skill of a 8 year old. My wife would make better decisions if you told her the odds and situation.

  11. Anonymous says:

    Thanks for presenting these numbers. Why does it seem like Manning has been plagued with coaches more interesting in not losing than winning?

  12. Anonymous says:

    Because, well, so has everyone else.

  13. Anonymous says:

    The risk was the same at the end of the game as it would be in overtime. Denver had control of the game they had the football they had time they had time outs.

    Fox should be fired for that decision.

  14. Anonymous says:

    Anon who wanted Baltimore to go for 2.

    You seem to be confusing the situation that occured to a situation with no time left in the game. I'll concede 50/50 on them making it. But assuming they make it they are now up 1, and force the Broncos to try to score. Which Mr. Goldner just demonstrated was 57% succesful. So the odds of Blatimore winning should they go for 1 are .5 times 4/21= .4 (4 made field goals out of 21 sample)

    Keith I take issue with comparing a tie game to all games where there is a defeceit of 1-3. If you are losing you will be much more agressive, go for it on 4th etc. without really caring if you throw an interception. While you increased your sample size you introduced bias

  15. Anonymous says:

    My "Which Mr. Goldner just demonstrated was 57% succesful" sentence was supposed to be deleted, the rest of my post stands

  16. Anonymous says:

    Sure mile high altitude would help a kick, but single digit temperatures take some air out of the ball. Deeper than the deepest baby!!

  17. Anonymous says:

    In the Super Bowl against the Rams, the Patriots were faced with a similar situation. Tie game at the end of the fourth quarter, maybe 30 seconds left on the clock. John Madden, who's the color announcer for the game, says the Patriots should take a knee and head to overtime.

    The Patriots run a few plays, get into range and kick a field goal for the win.

    Because that's what teams who play to win do.

  18. Anonymous says:

    50% versus 57%.

    I'm surprised how close the two decisions are. That is based on a league wide set of circumstances I imagine, and does not take into account the 14 deg F temperature and that they were going against the wind.

  19. Scott Younkerman says:

    It's very frustrating to watch a coach never change his ways or go with his gut. His whole basis on using the percentages is so rediculous. Sometime you gotta have balls and make a bold decision and live with it if you fail. That's why Bellicheck is so superior, he goes with his gut. After that horrible play by Moore, we had a shot to still get out if there with a win and we conceded. Hard to root for.

  20. Anonymous says:

    correction on brady's sb drive vs rams - there was exactly 1:21 left and they were on their 18; still a great drive and madden admitted he was wrong.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GVphiMBbGaM

    What is so terrible about Fox's decisions is that he didn't even TRY. At ends of both halves, he could've at least tried something on 1st down - if it's not successful, then you kill the clock. But to lay down is sad.

    And then the 3rd and 7 with Ravens playing 8-man front - play-action fake, short throw//low-risk play and game's over. If you miss, you give balto 30 more seconds, so what. I agree, Fox oughta be fired. This article makes his play-not-to-lose decision with Peyton at QB even more discredited:

    http://www.grantland.com/story/_/id/8828013/how-return-simplicity-peyton-manning-indy-offense-ignited-denver-broncos - this excellent article was written Jan 9th, irony is truly cruel at times.

  21. Anonymous says:

    i'm still in shock my donkey's lost,i hope the raven's beat the freekin patriots :D

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