There are many times when it is acceptable, even encouraged, to let someone else score, like playing basketball with your younger brother or sister. Letting your opponent score in the National Football League almost never happens. If anything, losing teams complain about their opponents running up the score during a game that had already been decided. The argument for the winners in that scenario: stop us, if you can. It’s hard to prevent another team from scoring, but almost no one ever simply allows the other team to score.
What about Superbowl XLVI?
When asked if “he allowed the Giants to score that touchdown at the end”, head coach Bill Belichick replied “Right.” After the follow up question on his though process, he responded, “Ball inside the 10-yard line, a 90 percent field goal conversion (in that territory).” In the most important game of the NFL season, Belichick allowed the Giants to score the go ahead touchdown with just over a minute left to play.
And he should have. Ahmad Bradshaw made the wrong play by crossing the goal line. On screen, it even looks like he at least thought about taking a knee at the one-yard line. Instead, he falls over and crosses the plane to score the Superbowl-winning touchdown.
But no one knew that his score would decide the game. Before he ran the ball in, the Giants had 0.94 win probability (per Advanced NFL Stats). After the play, the Giants’ win probability dropped to 0.85. Had he instead taken a Brian Westbrook or Maurice Jones-Drew-esque knee on the goal line, the Giants would have had a 0.96 win probability. Assuming the Patriots used their final time out, the Giants would have had 3rd and Goal from the 1-yard line with around 1:04 left to play. At this point, the Giants could either attempt to score a touchdown or take a knee. Assuming the touchdown try was unsuccessful or that Eli Manning kneeled, the Giants could have let the clock run all the way down to 0:25 before using the Giants’ final time out. With 4th and Goal from the 2 with 25 seconds left to play, the Giants would have a 0.92 win probability, 0.07 higher than after Bradshaw scored the touchdown of his life.
Because the Patriots were not able to score with the 1:04 that Bradshaw left them, this play will go down as the highlight of his career and most people probably won’t think twice about that play again. But if Tom Brady had marched the Patriots down the field on that final drive with the time left to him, people would argue about how much time the Giants left for the Patriots to mount a comeback. Regardless of the outcome, Belichick made the right call when he let the Giants score. Lawrence Tynes jokes aside, Belichick recognized that the Giants would almost certainly score, and that he needed to give his offense a chance to win the game. By letting the Giants score the deciding touchdown of XLVI, Belichick maximized his team’s odds of winning. Even though the Patriots lost another heartbreaker, Belichick’s brains gave them a chance.