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Bills’ fourth-quarter punt was a huge blunder

Rex Ryan is probably hoping that he’ll wake up any second, and that Sunday will have all been all been just a bad dream.

That’s how bad the Buffalo Bills’ coach mismanaged almost every conceivable situation in his team’s 30-22 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday. Fourth downs were part of the problem, as was Ryan’s failure to correctly use his challenge flag and his decision to go for two points after a touchdown late in the third quarter.

All of it factored into a loss that makes a 16th straight season without a postseason appearance seem inevitable.

In all, the Bills faced fourth down five times (officially) against the Chiefs. Here is a look at each one of the calls, Ryan made, as well as his decision to go for two.

1. Fourth and 4 from the K.C. 9-yard line, 0-0, 11:57 remaining in the first quarter.

Ryan’s call: Field-goal attempt (good).

What the Times suggests: Go for it! Fourth downs are historically converted from this distance about 40 percent of the time. Kicking a field goal would only be the right call if you felt the Bills had worse than a 28 percent chance of making a first down. Going for it would have increased the Bills’ chances to win from 42 to 44 percent.

Our call: This is the rare time where feel wins out over math. This corner had no problem with the Bills taking an early lead.

2. Fourth and 10 from the Kansas City 44-yard line, 10-0 Bills lead, 10:14 left in the second quarter.

Ryan’s call: Punt.

What Times suggests: Punt. Going for it is successful only about 28 percent of the time with this many yards needed for a conversion. For it to have been the right call for the Bills, they’d have to convert more than 54 percent of the time. Buffalo’s win percentage would have dropped from 74 to 71 percent by going for it.

Our call: Punting from the other team’s territory is never high on our priority list, but we can see where Ryan is coming from here. The Bills had a two-possession lead and punter Colton Schmidt had not had a touchback since Week One. Of course, Schmidt’s streak ended here and the Chiefs quickly marched to their first touchdown, but the decision to punt was defensible.

3. Fourth and 10 from the Buffalo 27-yard line, 16-14 Bills lead, 1:27 remaining in second quarter.

Ryan’s call: Punt.

What Times suggests: No suggestion because of how little time was left in the half.

Our call: Punt. Momentum at this point was squarely in the Chiefs’ favor. The Bills’ best bet was to punt and try to get to halftime with a lead. That’s exactly what happened.

4. Fourth and 9 from the Kansas City 42-yard line, 27-22 Chiefs lead, 10:06 remaining in fourth quarter.

Ryan’s call: Punt.

What Times suggests: Go for it! The Bills’ win percentage would have increased from 20 to 22 percent by attempting a conversion, which is successful historically 35 percent of the time in this situation. The Bills needed a 25 percent or less chance of a conversion to make punting the right call here. This is one of Ryan’s biggest errors of the season, mathematically speaking.

Our call: Go for it! The Bills had found a good rhythm, scoring a touchdown on their previous possession and moving the ball on this drive. Willingly giving the ball back to a team that was moving it with ease was a huge blunder on Ryan’s part. That showed itself to be true when the Chiefs gained 35 yards on their first play after Schmidt’s punt. That moved the ball to the Kansas City 46-yard line, or 4 yards from where the Chiefs would have gotten it had the Bills attempted a conversion and been unsuccessful.

5. Fourth and 9 from the Buffalo 21-yard line, 30-22 Chiefs lead, 2:16 remaining in the fourth quarter.

Ryan’s call: Go for it.

What the Times suggests: Go for it. Conversions are successful about 33 percent of the time in this situation – well above the needed 22 percent to make it the right call.

Our call: Going for it was the Bills’ last, and only, hope.

Two-point conversion attempt: Bills trailed, 24-22, with 3:11 remaining in the third quarter.

What charts say: Go for two. Teams in the NFL have converted two-point attempts nearly 50 percent of the time in 2015. Going for two is preferred by the mathematical models that factor in the score and time remaining. The success rate would need to be between 20 and 25 percent to make going for two the right play. That’s been blown away by teams this year.

Season totals: 80 fourth downs, 57 punts, 16 field-goal attempts, 2-of-7 conversion attempts.


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