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Stats Don't Support Saints Late-Game Decisions Against Falcons

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Holy hell this game has left  a seriously bad taste in my mouth. I had mentally prepared myself beforehand for the possibility of the Saints losing this crucial division game to a worthy opponent, but what I didn't think to expect was the frustrating manner in which they would lose it. 

Don't get me wrong, there were a lot of mistakes made by the Saints throughout the game putting them in a precarious overtime spot. But instead of blaming Garrett Hartley's missed field goal attempt, we could just as easily question Sean Payton's curious late-game decisions. Yes, Hartley should have made the game-winning field goal. Yes, Sean Payton should be able to trust him to make that chip shot. But I have no clue why Hartley was so quickly placed in that situation to begin with. The missed field goal attempt might needn't have been necessary. 

The Saints offense was marching down the field with plenty of time on the clock and had just gotten another first down on Atlanta's 11 yard line. So why not run two more plays and give your offense a chance to win the game themselves? I certainly wouldn't want them to try a passing play and risk the chance of interception but I see no reason not to try two running plays. Then if your team doesn't get in the endzone, you can still kick on third down, leaving yourself an extra down in case of botched snap.

Is there a high risk of fumble that enters the equation when determining when to kick a FG in overtime? I don't think so. Over the past two seasons the Saints have coughed up the ball 17 times on 533 carries, meaning we can expect a 3.2% chance that they'll fumble on any given running play. Meanwhile, Garrett Hartley has missed 4/17 field goal attempts over the past two years at the time of the kick and has shown inconsistency thus far this season. So instead of taking two low-risk opportunities to run for a TD and avoiding any chance of a missed kick, the Saints just passed "Go" and went straight to rolling the dice. 

Sure, Pierre Thomas, Chris Ivory and even Brees might have been banged up at the end of the game but are two more plays that much to ask for? If the Saints needed fresh legs or were concerned about further injury, LaDell Betts could have been an option. 

On another note, Payton decided to call a last second timeout right before Matt Bryant's game-winning field goal try in an effort to "ice" the kicker. I hate that term, I really hate that it's such a trendy thing to do and I really, really hate that the Payton tried it himself today. Of course the Saints were able to block that attempt but the results of that play were voided after the timeout. Bryant then used his second chance to give his team the win...from five yards deeper. Sure, it works sometimes but stats show it doesn't work as often as it does. Had Payton not called that timeout, the Saints might have still blocked the kick, gotten the ball back and had another chance to win. Either way, "icing" doesn't really offer an advantage. 

Just four days ago the Wall Street Journal statistically examined the very question at the heart of this issue: Does "icing" the kicker really work? The short answer is that no, it does not. On field goals between 36 and 50 yards (Bryant's would have been 41 yards) since 2000, kickers have made 73.9% when no timeout is called and 75.5% when there is a timeout. That's right, they make it more often when they have more time to think, concentrate, visualize and correct any problems they may make on a first, 'practice' attempt. Go figure.

Here is the full chart... 

WITHOUT CALLING A TIMEOUT BEFORE
Distance (yards) Made Att. %
35 and shorter 193 216 89.4%
36-50 161 218 73.9%
51 and longer 23 54 42.6%
Totals 377 488 77.3%
WITH CALLING A TIMEOUT BEFORE
35 and shorter 69 74 93.2%
36-50 74 98 75.5%
51 and longer 14 25 56%
Totals 157 197 79.7%