Sean Pendergast

How To Lose A Game In 10 Plays — Indianapolis Colts Edition

Ka'imi Fairbairn's second overtime field goal was the difference on Sunday afternoon.
Ka'imi Fairbairn's second overtime field goal was the difference on Sunday afternoon. Photo by Eric Sauseda
We've now had a couple days to digest what I thought, at the time it was made on Sunday, was a cataclysmically horrible decision by Indianapolis Colts' head coach Frank Reich to go for it on fourth down in his own territory in the waning moments of a tie game against the Texans, and after a day or two to think about it, my stance on it is this — it was STILL a cataclysmically horrible decision.

It's simple numbers. ESPN showed a graphic on SportsCenter Sunday evening that, if the Colts HAD converted that fourth down, their chances of winning the game were still just around ten percent or so. When they didn't convert, the Texans' win probability, according to Numberfire Live, skyrocketed to over 60 percent. So Reich opted for a decision that was basically six times more likely to produce a loss than a win for his team.

That, my friends, is coaching malpractice. Yet it doesn't stop the mathematically challenged people from figuratively patting Reich on the ass for "hating ties" and "going for a win," a completely tone deaf corollary to "well, if you're not first, you're last." I actually had someone on Twitter say to me that there's not much of a difference between 0-3-1 and 0-4. Um, yes there is... half a game. It's indisputable.

Reich backed off of his postgame declaration that he would go for it again "10 out of 10 times" on Monday, but stood by his decision in the moment:

“I probably should give context,” the Colts’ head coach said Monday, a day after he rolled the dice on fourth-and-4 from his own 43-yard-line with 27 seconds left in a tie game, then watched his team lose two plays later. “It’s probably not a complete absolute as much as it a mindset of being aggressive. There’s always a lot of things to consider. To say it was an absolute? It was emotional yesterday, a tough loss. The mindset is we’re going to be aggressive – that’s probably a better perspective for me to put in there.”
Now, the truth of the matter is that the Colts did the Texans plenty of favors at critical junctures throughout Sunday afternoon, it wasn't just late in overtime. Here are, in my opinion, the ten plays that ultimately lost this game for the Colts (and by definition, helped the Texans win):

05:30 Q1 - 2nd and 10 • IND ball on IND 2
Indy fumble in end zone, Jadeveon Clowney recovers for TD
This was the Texans' first real break, first real gift, of the 2018 season, as Colts center Ryan Kelly seemingly thought Andrew Luck was under center when he was actually in shotgun formation. As a result, the ball tumbled into no man's land in between the center and the quarterback, and Clowney fell on it for his second career TD. It came at a perfect time, as the Texans' defense had allowed a score on the Colts' first possession of the game, and the Texans' offense bogged down around midfield just before this.

01:53 Q2 - 1st and 10 • IND ball on IND 12
J.J. Watt strip sacks Luck, Duke Ejiofor recovers on IND 12 yard line
Late in the first half, the Texans forced another turnover deep in Indy territory, as Watt strip sacked Luck, and rookie Duke Ejiofor recovered the football. Three plays later, the Texans punched it in on a TD pass to DeAndre Hopkins. It's worth noting that both Texan fumble recoveries came after punter Trevor Daniel had pinned the Colts deep in their own end. Daniel was an unsung hero in the first half on Sunday.

04:15 Q3 - 2nd and 1 • IND ball on HOU 36
03:31 Q3 - 3rd and 4 • IND ball on HOU 39
Consecutive tackles for loss by Mercilus and Clowney
This was an inexplicable sequence of play calls by the Colts. They had just finished carving up the Texans' defense to cut the lead to 28-17, and had picked off Deshaun Watson on the Texans' next possession. Momentum was theirs. After a nine-yard pass play to RB Nyheim Hines, the Colts went with back to back running plays with rookie Jordan Wilkins, both of which lost yardage. Again, Clowney was involved, with the TFL on 3rd and 4. This, by the way, would be the last possession of the game in which the Colts would NOT score points, until Reich's ill-fated decision at the end of overtime.

06:09 Q5 - 3rd and 2 • IND ball on HOU 25
Marcus Johnson drops an easy one on 3rd down
When the Texans lost the coin toss in overtime, I thought that the game was pretty much over. The Texans were not stopping Andrew Luck. Sure enough, Luck moved the ball easily into Texans territory with a series of intermediate passes to no-name wide receivers. However, on 3rd and 2 from the Texans' 25 yard line, Johnson had an inexcusable drop that forced the Colts into a field goal attempt. This play was as damaging to the Colts as Reich's decision to go for it on fourth down later in OT.

01:19 Q5 - 2nd and 1 • IND ball on IND 46
Holding penalty on Mo Alie-Cox
After the Texans tied the game with about two minutes to go, that feeling of inevitability happened again, as Luck moved the Colts near midfield. However, a 2nd and 1 conversion was called back when Clowney drew a holding call on Alie-Cox. This led to....

01:15 Q5 - 2nd and 11 • IND ball on IND 3
Clowney sacks Luck for 10 yard loss
....more Clowney, which eventually led to....

:27 Q5 - 4th and 4 • IND ball on IND 43
Frank Reich - The Decision
....the "going for it because ties suck" debacle from Reich.

:24 Q5 - 1st and 10 • HOU ball on IND 43
Hopkins 19 yard catch and run
The one thing you could NOT allow here was for DeAndre Hopkins to make a play, so naturally the Texans' best football player snared a slant route and took it into field goal range.

:03 Q5 - 2nd and 10 • HOU ball on IND 19
Fairbairn game-winning field goal
Ball game. Texans win.

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Sean Pendergast is a contributing freelance writer who covers Houston area sports daily in the News section, with periodic columns and features, as well. He also hosts afternoon drive on SportsRadio 610, as well as the post game show for the Houston Texans.
Contact: Sean Pendergast