The Packers made one of the most controversial calls of the playoffs, electing to kick a 26-yard field goal on fourth down, rather than going for it and potentially tying the game. At first glance you might assume it was cowardice, and obviously the Packers lost, making it easy to question — but it’s not quite as clear cut as you might think.
—> TB (31) @ GB (23) <—
GB has 4th & 8 at the TB 8
Recommendation (MEDIUM): Go for it (+1.3 WP)
Actual play: M.Crosby 26 yard field goal is GOOD, Center-H.Bradley, Holder-J.Scott. pic.twitter.com/upf05RiP2j
— 4th down decision bot (@ben_bot_baldwin) January 24, 2021
The fourth down decision bot shows just a 1 percent difference in win chance by settling for the field goal, vs. going for it. In either case the Packers needed to get a defensive stop to win the game, and while an argument can be made that they still should have tried to tie it up, asking for a fourth down touchdown AND a two point conversion is a little much.
By kicking the field goal, Packers coach Matt LaFleur banked on being able to stop a rattled Tom Brady and give Rodgers one more chance to drive downfield to win the game. That was, until, the officials decided to start calling holding penalties.
Make no mistake, this was a definite penalty — but the issue was circumstance. All game long referees made a concerted decision not to call holding penalties. Joe Buck even commented on how the officials were letting everything go in the secondary, but on the critical game-defining play the flag was thrown from the back judge and pass interference was called. This is the danger of “just let them play” unfolding, because it felt as though the game wasn’t even or fair, especially when Rodgers threw an interception to close out the first half on the back of a missed holding call.
Players gain an expectation on how to play based on the reaction of officials. To call the game one way all day, then change those expectations on the final drive left the whole game feeling icky.
The Buccaneers are the NFC Champions now. Their stunning defense managed to contain Rodgers, despite missing both their starting safeties. That’s reason enough to be lauded, but there will be bad feelings in Green Bay for a long, long time.