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Ryan continues to make right calls on fourth down

It’s a shame it took Rex Ryan this long to see the light on fourth downs.

The Buffalo Bills’ coach continued a promising recent trend in Sunday’s 22-17 victory over the New York Jets in the season finale at Ralph Wilson Stadium, showing some gumption on fourth down that wasn’t there earlier in the season.

It’s easy to point to the standings as being the big reason why. The Bills were playing with nothing to lose against the Jets. Perhaps, though, Ryan will see the payoff from some of the decisions he’s made in recent weeks and adopt a more aggressive approach in 2016.

The Bills faced 11 fourth downs Sunday against the Jets (although only 10 were official). Here’s a look at what they decided to do on each one, along with what our call would have been, and what the math says, according to the New York Times’ 4th Down Bot:

1. Fourth and 10 from the Bills’ 45-yard line, 0-0, 12:31 remaining in the first quarter.

Ryan’s call: Punt.

What the Times suggests: Punt. The Bills had just a 30 percent chance at a conversion, and would have needed almost double that to make going for it the right call. Their win probability would have dropped 4 points by attempting a conversion.

Our call: We have no problem punting it away here. The Bills had the wind with them in the first quarter – a significant factor Sunday.

2. Fourth and 10 from the Bills’ 34-yard line, 0-0, 8:05 remaining in the first quarter.

Ryan’s call: Punt.

What the Times suggests: Punt. Pretty much an identical situation to the one above.

Our call: At this point, it was a punting contest between the two teams – as it should have been.

3. Fourth and 1 from the Jets’ 2-yard line, 7-0 Bills lead, 13:02 remaining in the second quarter.

Ryan’s call: Go for it!

What the Times suggests: Go for it! It was basically a coin flip for the Bills to get a first down (46 percent) and they needed just a 30 percent chance of a conversion to make going for it the right call.

Our call: Way to go, coach. This was a perfect chance for the Bills to take a two-possession lead by kicking a field goal, but going for it made perfect sense. It was a good call by both Ryan and offensive coordinator Greg Roman, who ran bruising rookie running back Karlos Williams. He found the end zone and the Bills went up, 13-0, after Dan Carpenter missed the extra point.

4. Fourth and 11 from the Bills’ 29-yard line, 13-0 Bills lead, 11:14 remaining in the second quarter.

Ryan’s call: Punt.

What the Times suggests: Punt. Once again, the odds were against the Bills converting. They had just a 23 percent chance of doing so, and it would need to be about 60 percent to make going for it the right call.

Our call: So far, the decisions to punt had been pretty easy to this point.

5. Fourth and 3 at the Jets’ 13-yard line, 13-7 Bills lead, 2:49 remaining in the second quarter.

Ryan’s call: Go for it! (We think)

What the Times suggests: Nothing, since this play did not officially happen.

Our call: Well, well, well, look at that riverboat gambler, Rex. We’ll never officially know if the Bills were going to go for this since EJ Manuel of all people drew the Jets offside for a free first down, but it certainly looked like the Bills were going to run a play. That might show a lack of confidence in Carpenter, but it was a surprise nonetheless to see the Buffalo offense on the field. A pleasant one, at that.

6. Fourth and 2 from the Jets’ 2-yard line, 13-7 Bills lead, 27 seconds remaining in the second quarter.

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

What the Times suggests: Nothing, because of the time remaining in the first half.

Our call: So, Rex didn’t coach a perfect game. It would’ve been nice to see Ryan go for it here again, as he did in the first quarter. But the logic of taking a two-possession lead, with the ball coming out of halftime is reasonably sound. For that reason, we won’t get too hung up on this call.

7. Fourth and 6 from the Jets’ 28-yard line, 16-10 Bills lead, 7:21 remaining in the third quarter.

Ryan’s call: Go for it!

What the Times suggests: Field-goal attempt. The Bills had only a 39-percent chance of a conversion, but needed a 52 percent chance for the math to support going for it. A field goal had a 71-percent chance of being good.

Our call: Go for it! We’re in agreement with Ryan, but we suspect he went for it here more because of a lack of confidence in Carpenter given the conditions as opposed to any great philosophical change.

8. Fourth and 9 from the Jets’ 19-yard line, 16-10 Bills lead, 5:05 remaining in the third quarter.

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

What the Times suggests: Field-goal attempt. The success rate is about 85 percent from this distance. The Bills had a 26 percent chance at a conversion, and would have needed about double that to make going for it the right call.

Our call: Once again, we’re with the coach. A two-possession lead, particularly in the second half, is appealing. Although Carpenter missed an extra point earlier, Ryan was right in trusting him here.

9. Fourth and 2 from the Bills’ 28-yard line, 19-17 Bills lead, 15:00 remaining in the fourth quarter.

Ryan’s call: Punt.

What the Times suggests: Go for it! The Bills had a 53 percent chance to convert, and needed a 46 percent chance to make going for it the right call. Historically, coaches punt here 97 percent of the time, however.

Our call: It’s easy to see why coaches so overwhelmingly punt in this situation. Failure means giving the ball the other team in scoring position. One day, it would be nice to see a coach truly understand the math and go for it in this situation, but realistically, we should be looking for baby steps. Criticizing Ryan for punting here wouldn’t be fair.

10. Fourth and 6 from the Jets’ 24-yard line, 19-17 Bills lead, 3:53 remaining in the fourth quarter.

Ryan’s call: Field-goal attempt.

What the Times suggests: Field-goal attempt. The chances of it being good were 78 percent, while the Bills needed a 60-percent chance of converting a first down, while the paper gave them only a 39-percent chance.

Our call: Given the yardage, we’re understanding of taking the field goal. Any closer, and going for it would have become a real option to be considered. A field goal doesn’t win the game here, but it guarantees the Jets need a touchdown to do so. Given the way the Bills’ defense had played, it’s understandable why Ryan would feel confident getting the stop.

11. Fourth and 5 from the Bills’ 39-yard line, 22-17 Bills lead, 55 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter.

Ryan’s call: Punt.

What the Times suggests: Go for it! The Bills had a 46 percent chance of converting, and needed only a 24 percent chance to get the paper’s blessing. Going for it would have increased the Bills’ win probability from 75 to 82 percent.

Our call: Punt it away. Here’s a situation where we disagree with the math entirely. Punting pins the Jets deep with no timeouts and asks Ryan Fitzpatrick to do something nobody has any confidence he can do. Going for it and not making it makes it anyone’s game. While we understand the math, we disagree with it in this situation.

Season totals: 120 fourth downs, 82 punts, 25 field-goal attempts, 5 of 13 conversion attempts.

email: jskurski@buffnews.com