The Situation: Denver Broncos vs. Cleveland Brown, DEN trailing 13-17, 4:39 left in the 4th quarter, 4th and 1 from the CLE 6 – Broncos’ coach Vance Joseph decides to attempt a field goal instead of going for it on fourth down
In the closing minutes of a game that the Broncos needed to win to remain in playoff contention, head coach Vance Joseph faced a crucial decision. Joseph went with the field goal attempt on 4th and 1 and just six yards from the end zone. In the moment, it likely felt like a safe decision; a 24 yard field goal is practically a sure thing, after all. Joseph probably reasoned that the Broncos would obtain possession again. These sentiments were confirmed by the head coach in his postgame press conference, “I wanted points there. We had about 4:35 to go in the game. We had one timeout and the two minute warning. I trust our defense to get a stop there.” The Broncos actually had two timeouts.
Even as Brandon McManus sent the ball between the uprights, the decision to kick a field goal was a terrible mistake. The Broncos realized 26.7 percent Game-Winning Chance (GWC) by kicking it in that situation. If the Broncos had gone for it instead, they would have realized 59.8 percent GWC. In other words, this play call was an error that surrendered 33.1 percent GWC; the largest play call error that we have ever seen. For comparison, here are the largest play call errors that Edj has witnessed in our history of analyzing NFL play calls:
As the more aggressive option, going for it gave the Broncos the best chance to win. The offense only needed 1 yard to set up a first-and-goal. If successful, it allowed them the opportunity to run more clock with multiple opportunities at scoring a go-ahead touchdown. Importantly, a successful conversion followed by a touchdown provides the Broncos a path to winning that doesn’t require an additional possession. The safe option hopes, or perhaps assumes, that the Browns don’t score again, which is no certainty. A failed fourth down conversion also has residual value in terms of field position and the possibility of regaining possession via safety. All of these factors contribute to the magnitude of this error; an error which takes its place as the worst play call error on record.