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Going For It: How NFL Coaches Handle 4th-and-1


    Detroit Lions coach Dan Campbell was being aggressive Dec. 4 at Ford Field. Holding a two-point lead with less than five minutes remaining and the ball on the Lions’ side of the field, Campbell decided to go for it on fourth down. On fourth-and-inches, Detroit decided it was going to let quarterback Jared Goff pass. He fumbled, the Vikings recovered and took the lead.

    While the Lions would rally to score a late touchdown as time expired to win their first game of the season, it was a difficult watch for fans who had played the NFL odds on BetUS. Campbell’s decision to go for it on fourth-and-short would have been unthinkable 20 years ago. The Lions would have punted and trusted their defense. But as analytics find their way on the football field, many more coaches are taking big risks.

    Let’s Take a Gamble

    The NFL is on pace to set a record for the most fourth-down attempts in the league’s history. Currently, they are on pace for 838 attempts. From 2012 to 2016, the league didn’t even reach 600 attempts. In 2012, NFL teams only went for it 481 times.

    Teams are making more efforts into the math regarding how to handle the clock and other aspects of the game. It is estimated that 28 of the 32 teams have hired someone to help with in-game management.

    Philly Special

    The NFL has seen fourth-down conversions pulled off in big spots over the past decade. None may have been more important than when the Philadelphia Eagles decided to pass on kicking a field goal with 34 seconds left before halftime in Super Bowl XLII.

    With a three-point lead over the Patriots, the Eagles had their quarterback, Nick Foles, line up in the slot. He would end up rolling into the endzone and catching a pass from Trey Burton to give the Eagles a 22-12 lead going into halftime. Philadelphia would ride the momentum to win its first Super Bowl 39-33.

    football players field

    Former MVP Says Let’s Go For It

    Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson didn’t want to think about the possibility of a fifth straight loss to the Kansas City Chiefs. Facing a 4th-and-one from the Ravens’ 43-yard line with 1 minute, 5 seconds remaining, Jackson told coach John Harbaugh he was staying on the field Sept. 19, 2021, at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, Mo.

    Baltimore, which was ahead 38-35, didn’t want to give the ball back to Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes. Jackson took the next snap, scampered for a 2-yard gain and ended the Ravens run of futility against Kansas City.

    Old-School: Fourth-Down Attempt Doomed Bengals

    Cincinnati coach Forrest Gregg was ahead of his time during Super Bowl XVI Jan. 24, 1982 at the Pontiac Silverdome in Detroit. The Bengals’ first Super Bowl appearance wasn’t going as planned, with Cincinnati behind the San Francisco 49ers 20-7 late in the third quarter.

    The Bengals moved the ball down to the 49ers’ 3-yard line and were shut up with a first-and-goal and were in position to steal momentum. On Cincinnati’s first three plays of the series, they were only able to gain three yards.

    Facing fourth-and-one at the 1-yard line, the Bengals decided to give the ball to their short-yardage specialist Pete Johnson. Johnson, who had a career-best season that year with 1,077 yards rushing, was stopped short of the goal line by 49ers linebacker Dan Bunz. While the Bengals would force a punt and score a touchdown to cut the lead to 20-14, San Francisco scored a long fourth quarter drive to score a 26-21 win and capture their first Super Bowl victory.