Should Bill O'Brien have gone for it on fourth and one?
USA Today Sports
The Texans were leading the Patriots 30-28 with 2:24 left in the game last week. With his team facing a fourth-and-one on New England's 18-yard line, Houston head coach Bill O'Brien had a tough decision in front of him: either kick a chip-shot field goal and force Tom Brady and the Patriots to drive 75 yards for the win, or go for it and put the game on ice if he succeeded. You know how the story ends: the Texans took the points, leaving Brady enough time to complete a dagger to Brandin Cooks for the 36-33 win. In the aftermath of the loss, many questioned O'Brien's decision not to go for the win when he had the chance. But was it the wrong decision?
SBNation's Jon Benne wrote an excellent piece arguing that O'Brien made a fatal error by kicking the field goal. Fundamentally, he makes a good point: the Texans running game had been carving up the Pats defense all day; despite getting stuffed on third down the odds of gaining a yard on a second try were still high. And if that attempt was successful, as it probably would have been, the Pats would have gotten the ball back (assuming they held the Texans at all) with fewer than two minutes and no timeouts left to respond. In all likelihood, a successful fourth down would have iced the game.
But evaluating the drive chart from the game, a different story emerges. The Patriots hadn't found the end zone since Brady connected with Brandin Cooks with 12:55 left in the third quarter. Houston's defense had harassed the Pats O-line the whole afternoon, and had racked up four sacks by the time New England took over for the final drive. The offense hadn't gained more than 10 yards in almost 20 minutes of play. While the end stats didn't reflect it, Brady and the Pats were sputtering on offense. Expecting them to execute a 75-yard two-minute drill for a TD on that defense sounds close to ludicrous.
Of course, that's without factoring in Tom Brady's clutch gene. Nobody has led more fourth-quarter or overtime comebacks in the history of the NFL, and giving him the ball back before the two-minute warning was almost certain to turn out poorly for the Texans. After having lost to the Patriots three times before in his head-coaching career, O'Brien should have known that fact. But at the same time, it's hard to fault him for choosing to kick the field goal: sure, he may have sealed the win if he was successful on fourth down, but if the Pats defense stepped up and stuffed Houston (like they did on third down), New England would only have needed a field goal for the win. O'Brien chose, and he chose wrong, but at the end of the day his decision-making was fundamentally sound.
What do you think? Should the Texans have gone for it on fourth down? Let me know in the comments or on Twitter.