McCarthy should have bet season on 2-point conversion, not on overtime
The irony, of course, is that they’re advancing at the expense of the Packers and coach Mike McCarthy, who leaves the postseason in the wake of another game management blunder. Last year, it was McCarthy’s hyper-conservative decision-making early in the game which cost the Packers critical points they would need later in the contest.
This year, it was not going for two after the Hail Mary. Kickers hit 94.2 percent of their extra points this year; that figure rose to 97.6 percent indoors, and Crosby was 36-for-36 this year, so let’s just be kind and say that Crosby’s going to tie the game 98 percent of the time. (Vikings fans will tell you that no kick is automatic.) So 2 percent of the time, the Packers lose without ever getting to overtime.
If the Packers do go to overtime, they’re going to be underdogs. The Cardinals were seven-point favorites heading into the contest; after taking out the vig, the implied odds from the Vegas money line suggested that the Packers had a 26 percent chance of winning the game. Green Bay had certainly played better than they had during Arizona’s regular-season blowout in the previous matchup, but they had lost Randall Cobb and needed two Hail Mary completions to tie the game.
It’s almost always better for the underdog to try to turn the game into a shorter contest. Taken to an extreme, if you’re playing Steph Curry one-on-one and you start with the ball, it’s better to play to one than 11, because you might fire off a jumper and get lucky, but you’re not going to hit 11 shots over Steph without giving him the ball.
Even an aggressive estimate would suggest that the Packers had, say, a 40 percent chance of winning the game if it went into overtime. Factor in the aforementioned possibility of a missed Crosby extra point and you’re down to a 39 percent shot if you kick the extra point. The chances of the Packers converting their two-pointer are almost definitely better than 39 percent. The league has converted 48.1 percent of its attempts over the past three years, with the Packers going 5-for-9. Give the Cardinals credit for a tough defense and take into consideration that the Packers don’t have a great running game. You’re still going to find it difficult to come up with a scenario in which the chances of winning the game heading into overtime are better than converting a two-pointer.
And if you really want, pretend for a moment that the percentages are tied. There’s also the small matter of the M-word. If you believe that momentum is a meaningful concept in terms of how teams win and lose football games — and I am admittedly skeptical — why would you ever let the game slip into overtime? Having knocked the Cardinals onto the ropes with one of the more stunning sequences in playoff history and with a minute to figure out which play you wanted to run while referees reviewed the touchdown, why wouldn’t McCarthy think that his chances of winning the game were better with one immediate play?
All things weren’t equal, and that included Arizona’s coaching advantage. McCarthy played it safe yet again, and it ended up costing his team another postseason in the prime of the 32-year-old Rodgers’ career. He coached to put off losing as long as possible. Arians coached to win, and while it raised some eyebrows and nearly cost his team the victory, he made far more defensible decisions than his counterpart.
McCarthy’s choice was safer and attracted far less attention, but that doesn’t make his decision the correct one. Instead of going by the book, McCarthy could take a page out of Arians’. A lot of coaches should.