Choices are a fickle friend. We all make thousands a day, most with unseen consequences that map out our days and guide individual Choose Your Own Adventures. Some, however, lead to massive waterfalls of aftereffect that cascade, flooding from one plane of existence into another.
In sports, those big decisions open coaches and players to second-guessing. Whether they should have done A or stuck with trusty column B. Perhaps heeding advice from the analytics squad would be prudent, or maybe, in hindsight clunking the “nerds” on the noggin and sticking with your football gut would have elicited a different outcome.
It’s for these decisions that coaches get paid their large salaries.
Sunday night in Seattle, Vikings coach Mike Zimmer found himself in a spot to make such a choice.
At the two-minute warning, leading 26-21, Zimmer’s team faced a fourth-and-1 at the Seattle 6-yard-line. Two choices: 1) Kick the field goal and go up eight points, giving Russell Wilson about 117 seconds to possibly drive 75 yards for a touchdown and two-point try. 2) Go for it and either end the game right there by converting or leave 1:57 for Wilson to drive 94 yards for the game-winning TD.
During the two-minute warning, Zimmer made his decision clear to offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak through his headset: “We didn’t come here for this. Let’s go win it,” he said, via the Star-Tribune.
Backup running back Alexander Mattison was stuffed off the right side for no gain. The Seahawks had life, and Wilson drove Seattle down the field, converting two fourth downs to D.K. Metcalf along the way, for the game-winning score.
Minnesota loses 27-26 to fall to 1-4.
Despite the result, Zimmer wasn’t interested in today’s game of what-if.
“I really don’t,” Zimmer said when asked if he had any regrets about the decision. “We came here to win, so I’m not going to second-guess any of that stuff. We didn’t get it done. Everyone else will [second-guess it]. Let them.”
It’s easy in hindsight to second-guess a coach eschewing points to go for the win — even though the math suggests the choice was basically a wash. Had Mattison chosen a different gap to run into, he might spill over the line to gain, the game is over, and Zimmer is hailed for his decision.
It’s overlooked that had the Vikings gone for two and converted on their earlier TD instead of kicking the extra point, this whole process would have been moot. Had that decision unfolded in Minnesota’s favor, a field goal late would have made it a two-score game. The choice would have been simple.
It’s easy to play hindsight heckler when the results tip to one side off an obvious call. Some will blame the “analytics army” with ruining football. They’ll worry more about the results than the process that got them to the answer. Analytics isn’t about being right every time. It’s about utilizing a process that provides the most common routes to winning. A smart person wouldn’t rail against a blackjack player for staying on 17 with the dealer showing a 4 even if the House spiked a series of cards to hit 21. Sometimes you lose making every right decision. That’s life. Push your chips in, and have another go.
In our case, Russell Wilson is the House, and he almost always finds a way to 21 in the end.
A game of football is filled with a multitude of choices from many different characters. Each influences the future for another.
In this instance, it was Minnesota that is left wishing it’d made one different move.
“We’ve just got to finish. One more play,” wide receiver Adam Thielen said. “Obviously you can go back and look at situations and wish you woulda coulda shoulda, but, man, one more play, one more yard, one more stop, things like that. It’s just we’re so close, and that’s probably why it’s so disappointing.”
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