The goal-line stand that the Chiefs might regret

·3-min read

Andy Reid wouldn't answer. Perhaps he was too frustrated. Perhaps he didn't quite understand.

His Kansas City Chiefs had just lost a roller-coaster of a football game to the Cincinnati Bengals. Two frenzied final minutes of goal-line stands, controversial fourth-down decisions, costly penalties and a game-winning field goal had prompted several questions. Among them: Before it all began, with the score tied at 31, should the Chiefs have simply let the Bengals score?

That was the question Reid and his staff should've been asking themselves at the two-minute warning. Cincinnati had the ball and a first-and-goal at the 1. Kansas City had two timeouts and a decision: Try to hold the Bengals to a field goal and give Patrick Mahomes one minute and no timeouts to drive for a field goal of his own? Or concede seven points and trust Mahomes, with two minutes and timeouts, to get the game to overtime?

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It's unclear if Reid considered the second option.

EdjSports, a data analytics company that works with NFL teams, has a model that suggests he should have.

At that very moment, according to EdjSports, had the Bengals scored to go up a touchdown, their win probability would have actually dropped by 2.5 percentage points.

CINCINNATI, OHIO - JANUARY 02: Joe Burrow #9 of the Cincinnati Bengals is tackled by the defense of the Kansas City Chiefs in the fourth quarter of the game at Paul Brown Stadium on January 02, 2022 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)
Joe Burrow pushes toward the goal line in the fourth quarter of the Cincinnati Bengals' win over the Kansas City Chiefs. (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)

Instead, the Chiefs held firm. They stuffed Joe Burrow on first down. When they did, "Cincinnati’s win probability went up by about 1%," EdjSports' Ian O'Connor told Yahoo Sports.

The Chiefs then stopped Burrow again on second down, and Joe Mixon on third.

Their resilience set up the polarizing decision that everyone is talking about. With 58 seconds remaining and the ball inside the 1, Bengals head coach Zac Taylor went for six points rather than kick a go-ahead field goal. Most, if not all, trusted mathematical models disagreed with that choice. It ultimately worked, in spectacularly weird fashion. Offsetting penalties nullified Cincinnati's first try. Another Chiefs penalty then gave the Bengals an automatic first down, and a chance to ice the game's final 50 seconds and kick a game-winner.

Mahomes never touched the ball again.

So, after the game, reporters put the question to Reid. Not one, not two, but three of them. Did he consider telling his defense to surrender, and putting the ball — plus two timeouts and an extra minute — in his MVP quarterback's hands?

His first answer seemed to misinterpret the question. His second was vague.

His third made it clear that he was dodging the question altogether.

"When the Bengals initially got down there, two minutes left in the game, was there a thought process there to potentially let them score, and have a couple minutes left?" a reporter asked.

"Before we stopped 'em on the 1-foot line?" Reid asked gruffly and rhetorically. "We stopped 'em. And then there was a penalty. Gotta play it out."

He also praised his defense for getting the stop. He seemingly never entertained the thought that it might have contributed to the 34-31 loss.

The EdjSports model, of course, is not a football bible, and the numbers it spit out Sunday weren't emphatic. O'Connor characterized the difference between the "let them score" scenario and reality as "[not] huge." This wasn't an egregious coaching error. One could argue it wasn't even an error.

But did the goal-line stand, among many other significant plays and sequences, ultimately help Cincinnati win the game?

It probably did.

And it definitely helped prevent Mahomes from winning it.