About two months ago, Patriots head coach Bill Belichick gave sports talk radio all sorts of fodder as he made a call to go for a fourth and two against the Indianapolis Colts deep in his own territory. It was one of the worst coaching decisions many had seen in a while, and because of who made the call it was analyzed to death and people attempted to explain, using probability and statistics, how it was the smart call.
Last Sunday against Belichick's own New England Patriots, Jack Del Rio made that particular fourth down call look like a stroke of genius. With five minutes remaining in the first period on his own 35-yard line, Del Rio decided to send his offense on the field on a fourth and play.
"I think the most important thing for anybody in a leadership position is to continue to do the things that they believe in and be steadfast and I will do that," Del Rio said following the game.
"He's insane", I yelled as I sat in disbelief. Sure enough, running back Maurice Jones-Drew was stopped for no gain and the Jaguars turned the ball over on downs, essentially gifting the New England Patriots a free three points at the minimum. Just four plays later, Tom Brady hit Randy Moss for a two-yard touchdown pass and that was the beginning of the end.
Words cannot explain just how terrible a decision that was by Jack Del Rio. I'm not even saying this in hindsight, as in hindsight it looks like a smart call because the Jaguars we're blown out 35-7. The risk of this call severely outweighed the reward. The reward is a new set of downs... on the 35-yard line. The risk is the Patriots get the football in field goal range. Then what do you do if you're at fourth and short again on the say... 42 yard line? Haven't you put yourself in position to where you have to go for it again? You can't punt on fourth and short after going for it in the previous set of downs in exponentially worse field position. To put it simply, he pigeonholed himself.
Let's examine the time and situation a little further. This is a call you make when there are five minutes remaining in the fourth quarter down by a score or two, not with five minutes left on the clock in the first quarter in a 0-0 ball game. It was a call, that if it fails, already puts your team in a giant hole and borderline lost the football game early on. I understand the argument that he had no faith his defense would stop the Patriots, but even so... wouldn't you rather the Patriots have to drive the field 80 yards again as opposed to starting in field goal range?
I'm not one of the people who think Jack Del Rio is on the hot-seat, as I believe a 7-9 to 8-8 finish for this football team could easily be considered overachieving, but calls like this start to put nails in the proverbial coffin. National media pundits such as ESPN's Adam Shefter have expressed that they hear Jack Del Rio's job security is 50/50. I'm not sure how much of that I believe, given the fact that if Jack Del Rio is fired owner Wayne Weaver is still on the hook for his $5 million/year salary, but then he makes calls like the one made on Sunday.
"I really can't offer up anything that's going to sound halfway decent to you on that type of comment," Del Rio responded when asked about the harsh criticism he's feeling from the Jaguars fan-base. "I'm going to continue to do the things I believe in and that's what I'm going to ask of our players and coaches as well."
Personally, I think he ripped the heart out of the football team with that play. Making the call showed absolutely no faith in your defense, who just forced it's league leading sixth turnover on an opening drive, and the team looked like it slept-walked through the rest of the game. It certainly may have wound up a little different had the play been successful, or it could have just delayed the inevitable. One thing is for sure, it was a bad call when it was made, and it was a bad call after it was made. Those are the type's of bad calls that can turn the temperature of your seat up a few notches.
Upon Further Review
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