Monday, January 17, 2011

Second-Guessing a Touchdown

When is a first down better than a touchdown?

The New York Jets upset the New England Patriots Sunday, 28-21. The winning touchdown came with 1:41 remaining in the game, as the Jets' Shonn Greene rushed to the right for 16 yards into the end zone, giving the Jets a 28-14 lead. While the Jets celebrated on the field, drawing a 15 yard penalty, I sat at home looking ahead and thinking about Tom Brady. Did Shonn Green make a tactical error by leaving Tom Brady and the Patriots time for a comeback?

After the jump, what Tom Brady did with 1:41.

Come back Tom Brady did, capping a long drive with a pass to Deion Branch down the middle for 13 yards and a touchdown with 0:24 left on the clock. The Jets' lead was cut to seven. The Patriots were still alive. Time for an onside kick and maybe a Hail Mary pass into the end zone for the tying score, sending the game to overtime. Importantly, the Patriots still controlled their own destiny. As it turned out, New England failed to recover the onside kick and the Jets' quarterback took a knee to run out the clock, but, still, the Patriots weren't out of it until they failed to execute that onside kick.

Consider this alternative. Shonn Greene, instead of scoring with 1:41 left in the game, rushes to the right for 15 yards and downs the ball, untackled, at the one yard line. First down, Jets, with 1:41 on the clock. The Patriots have only one timeout left. The Jets quarterback takes a knee for three plays. The clock runs out before the fourth down snap, without the Patriots ever getting the ball back, without Tom Brady ever throwing even one more pass. At worst, if the clock doesn't completely expire before that fourth down, the Jets kick a field goal on fourth down with only seconds left on the clock, giving them a 10 point lead and leaving the Patriots, needing two scores, with time for maybe one play.

It's too much to expect a running back to think of all this in a situation like that, but his coach, Rex Ryan, reportedly did. I can't fault Greene for scoring, but it would have been genius of him to stop short of the goal line, just this one time. A "touchdown that wasn't" would have been remembered long after his late touchdown is forgotten.

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