The Atlanta Falcons should've beaten the San Francisco 49ers. I'm not just saying this because the San Francisco 49ers were starting Blaine Gabbert and were without Reggie Bush, Carlos Hyde, Anquan Boldin, and their top three cornerbacks, although, well, to be honest, that's also a pretty good reason.
I'm saying this because the Falcons had the ball on the 1-yard-line down four points with under three minutes to go. And head coach Dan Quinn made one of the worst decisions a head coach can make: He opted to kick the 19-yard field goal rather than attempt to score a touchdown. He opted to attempt a field goal that didn't even tie the game while ceding possession to the opponent.
Sure, the Falcons hit the field goal to cut the lead to one point, meaning if they'd gotten a stop, they could've gotten the ball back and kicked another field goal. But they never got the ball back: San Francisco got two first downs and ran the game out.
How bad of a decision was this? Let's take a peek at the 4th Down Calculator, via Advanced Football Analytics:
If you don't know how to read that: Going for it gave the Falcons a 53 percent chance at winning. They would've had a 42 percent chance at scoring a touchdown, which would've resulted in a 78 percent chance at a win, and a 58 percent chance at failing to score.
But even if they failed, they would've given the 49ers the ball pinned on their own 1-yard-line, potentially leading to a safety and the ball back, a defensive touchdown, or a blocked punt for a safety or a touchdown. And even if none of those happened, the Falcons still could've gotten the ball back in good field position after a punt from the one. In the likelihood that they didn't get the TD, they still would've had a 35 percent chance at winning.
Actually making the field goal meant the 49ers were getting the ball back in much better field position, still with a lead. Making the field goal gave the Falcons just a 17 percent chance at winning. Simply attempting this field goal hurt the Falcons' chance at winning by 36 percent. They would've been better off getting zero points and keeping the field position.
If you think it's foolish to just run off what one set of numbers says, most win probability formulas would agree. Numberfire says the made FG dinged Atlanta's win probability by over 40 percent: They had a 50.48 chance of winning beforehand, and a 9.14 percent chance afterwards.
It's always easy to criticize coaches in hindsight: If the Falcons get the ball back and win, Quinn seems smart. He explained his reasoning after the game and said his confidence in the offense as well as the defense factored in. Via the Atlanta Journal-Constitution:
"I chose to kick it there. Thought we were getting the stops defensively, we'd get the kick, get stops, use our timeouts and then go attack on offense. We're a really good two minute team on offense. So, that was the reasoning for it."
If the Falcons had gone for it and failed, few would criticize Quinn. It would've showed he had confidence in his offense, and something possibly resembling guts. And according to the numbers, it would've given Atlanta a better chance at winning than if they made the stupid field goal he asked for.
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