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On fourth downs, Ryan lets his inner gambler come out to play

Sure, it came too late in the season to actually make a difference, but at least Rex Ryan made a respectable decision on fourth down Sunday.

Of course, given an opportunity to do it again, the Buffalo Bills’ head coach reverted to his predictable ways in a 35-25 loss to the Washington Redskins that sealed the Bills’ postseason fate.

Even though it was likely dictated by the score at the time, it was refreshing to see Bills Ryan go for it inside Washington territory in the second quarter. He even doubled down when the team went for it on fourth and goal from the 1-yard line later on the drive. One of those decisions worked out, the other didn’t.

Of course, it was shown a short time later that Ryan didn’t have some sort of epiphany when he called for a field goal in the third quarter.

In all, the Bills faced fourth down eight times against the Redskins. Here is a review of what they did on each one:

1. Fourth and 9 from the Redskins’ 41-yard line, 7-0 Washington, 2:55 remaining in first quarter.

Ryan’s call: Punt.

What the Times suggests: Punt. The Bills had a 35-percent chance of converting, according to the paper’s statistical analysis, but would need a 44-percent chance to make going for it the right call.

Our call: Big sigh. Another punt from inside opposition territory is sadly expected at this point. Our problem here deals with third down, when the Bills threw an incomplete pass deep intended for Sammy Watkins. Why not look at third and 9 as having two downs to get the first down instead of one. Doing so maybe would have gotten the Bills into field-goal range, or gotten them close enough to seriously consider going for it. Because 9 yards was needed, the punt made sense here, but it didn’t have to be that way.

2. Fourth and 14 from the Bills’ 14-yard line, 14-0 Washington, 10:44 remaining in second quarter.

Ryan’s call: Punt.

What the Times suggests: Punt. It’s what NFL coaches do 98 percent of the time in this situation — for good reason.

Our call: We agree with Ryan on this one.

3. Fourth and 15 from the Bills’ 4-yard line, 21-0 Washington, 7:09 remaining in the second quarter.

Ryan’s call: Punt.

What the Times suggests: Punt. By this point, the paper has pretty much written off the Bills’ chances. Their win probability was down to 4 percent. It would have dropped to 3 percent by going for it.

Our call: Again, the Bills needed far too many yards to feel good about their chances of a successful conversion.

4. Fourth and 6 from the Redskins’ 40-yard line, 21-0 Washington lead, 5:35 remaining in the second quarter.

Ryan’s call: Go for it!

What the Times suggests: The Bills’ win probability would have remained at 6 percent whether the Bills went for it or punted.

Our call: Go for it! Cue up the Hallelujah! The Bills’ coach finally listened, and what would you know … it worked! Tyrod Taylor’s completion to Sammy Watkins looked so easy, it left you wondering why the Bills don’t try that more often.

5. Fourth and goal from the Redskins’ 1-yard line, 21-0 Washington, 1:38 remaining in the second quarter.

Ryan’s call: Go for it!

What the Times suggests: Nothing. Because of the time remaining, the paper’s mathematical model does not offer a suggestion in this situation.

Our call: We support Ryan going for it here — but hate the play call from offensive coordinator Greg Roman. The attempted fade pass to Watkins wasn’t close. Getting Taylor outside the pocket where he’s a threat to run or pass — or simply spreading the defense out and trying to run it in — would have been favorable.

6. Fourth and 4 from the Redskins’ 14-yard line, 21-0 Washington lead, 9:04 remaining in the third quarter.

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

What the Times suggests: The Bills had a 3-percent win probability by going for it or kicking a field goal, which from 31 yards has a 93-percent success rate.

Our call: So much for Ryan turning into a riverboat gambler by going for it two straight times in the second quarter. He reverted back to his usual, conservative self here. The point of a field goal in this situation is impossible to understand. The Bills were still going to need three possessions even if Dan Carpenter made the kick, and the clock is a big enemy at this point. This was a bizarre, but not unexpected, decision by Ryan.

7. Fourth and 7 from the Redskins’ 44-yard line, 35-17 Washington, 8:40 remaining in the fourth quarter.

Ryan’s call: Go for it!

What the Times suggests: Go for it. The Bills’ win probability at this point had dropped to 2 percent. Their chances of converting were 39 percent.

Our call: During the game, Terry and Kim Petula’s son, Matty, tweeted – and then deleted – a sarcastic message about how well the defense was playing in the first half. We can only imagine what he might have fired off if the Bills punted here.

8. Fourth and 8 from the Bills’ 13-yard line, 35-17 Washington lead, 5:22 remaining in the fourth quarter.

Ryan’s call: Punt.

What the Times suggests: The Bills had a 1-percent win probability no matter what they did here, so the paper really didn’t care.

Our call: Punting just makes no sense whatsoever. Yes, even if the Bills converted their chances of winning were super low. But punting is tantamount to waving the white flag in the game. Perhaps that’s fitting for what the loss meant to the Bills’ season.

Season totals: 105 fourth downs, 74 points, 21 field-goal attempts, 3 of 10 conversion attempts.


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