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Watching Super Bowl XLVI, I noticed near the end of the game the New England Patriots allowed the New York Giants to score a touchdown uncontested.

At this point in the game, the Patriots were winning with only a few seconds left in the game, but instead of trying to prevent the Giants from scoring, they allowed them to score and ended up losing the game.

Why would a coach make this decision that would put his team in a position where they would most likely not be able to win?

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In that particular situation, the Patriots were allowing the Giants to score because of 2 important reasons.

  1. The Giants were already in scoring position - well within field goal range and

  2. The Patriots only had a slim lead (2 points) - so a field goal from the Giants would mean they would be trailing and need to get the ball back and score again.

So they allowed the Giants to score in order to get possession of the ball back ASAP to try and re-gain the lead.

  • 2
    Which begs the question: "Why didn't they do it sooner?" :) – Marcus Swope Feb 8 '12 at 21:49
  • @MarcusSwope: It may have been difficult to do it sooner. You'll notice that the player who scored realized what was going on and tried to stop, but couldn't. If they had tried to permit a score a minute or so earlier (which actually would have been a very good strategy by the win probability numbers), the players would have had further to go and would have been able to stop before reaching the endzone. At that point, the game would have been essentially over. – Michael Myers Feb 8 '12 at 21:51
  • I am curious of that myself. I believe they let at least one more play happen than was necessary and they made the tackle in bounds, letting even more time run off the clock. – jamauss Feb 8 '12 at 21:52
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    You didn't mention the time aspect, which is key. There was 50+ seconds left, just enough time to possibly get down field and make a play. If there was more or less time left in the game, there would be no good reason to allow the other team to score. – Robert C. Barth Feb 8 '12 at 23:38
  • I would agree about more time left, but less time left? I guess if there was only 5-10 seconds left, yes. But then again, if that's all that was left, NY would have had their FG unit out there to kick a game winning FG. NY had almost a 'checkmate' situation going on, forcing the Pats into making a quick decision. – jamauss Feb 8 '12 at 23:43
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If you have great confidence in your players, and expect them to be able to make an equal score given enough time, then you may be willing to let your opponent score NOW so your team has more time for a score of their own.

Obviously this is a very, very risky decision. If you happen to not score on that possession (as the Patriots did) you lose the game. The counter argument is if the opponent runs out the clock and kicks a field goal on the last play, you'll lose the game anyway.

For what it's worth, the football community as a whole is divided on whether this was particular instance was a good decision or not.

  • "The football community is divided"? I'd like to see someone who thinks it wasn't a good decision. – Michael Myers Feb 8 '12 at 21:52
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    I personally think it was the right decision. I Googled for "did the patriots make the right decision letting giants score" and the top two results indicated that he made the right decision. Obviously if his team had scored, then everyone would have thought it was a good decision. My suspicion is that most people in the community are unable to divorce themselves from the outcome versus the decision. – corsiKa Feb 8 '12 at 22:12
  • Patriots allowed them to score because they had a good QB(Tom Brady). – Sam Dai Jan 29 '16 at 23:32
  • Also, the Patriots were ranked no.1 in offense that year – Sam Dai Feb 3 '16 at 0:25
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As far as that decision that was made it was based on the clock game, confidence in your players, and a calculated risk. If the Pats tried to hold the Giants to a field goal then sure the points gap would be smaller but so would the time on the clock. Coach Belichick has great confidence in Tom Brady and, based on how quickly they have been moving down the field, just hoped that that full minute was enough to score.

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This tactic generally really only applies to teams with offenses that are directed by a good/excellent Quarterback.

Teams like the Patriots, Giants, Packers, Saints (i.e. Quarterbacks with great accuracy/power, awareness, and most importantly; poise).

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