Lions coach Bobby Ross has been under fire for his decision to go for two points in the fourth quarter of a 23-19 loss to the Cardinals on Nov. 14. Forgotten in all the controversy, however, was Ross's call to go for two early in the third quarter, a decision that might have cost his team a chance to win the game in regulation.
Coaches have charts that tell them when they should go for two. But those charts deal strictly with point differentials and don't take into account a number of other factors, most notably the time on the clock. Consider the Detroit-Arizona game. With about 11 minutes to go in the third quarter the Lions scored a touchdown to make the score 23-13. Going by the card, Ross shunned an all-but-automatic extra point for a two-point attempt, which failed. Even though 26 minutes remained, Ross was basically saying that he wasn't confident his team could score more than once. Had he kicked the extra point there, he could have done the same after the Lions' third touchdown, which would have left his team down by just 23-21 with 5:26 left. Then when Detroit drove to the Arizona 10 with just over a minute left, Ross could have sent out the field goal team on fourth down rather than having to go for a touchdown.
"Early this season we scored in Minnesota late in the third quarter to go ahead by 12 [22-10]," recalls Raiders coach Jon Gruden of a game that Oakland eventually won 22-17. "According to our chart, going for two was the appropriate decision. We failed. If I had it to do over again, I wouldn't go for two. The Vikings figured to get the ball three more times, and who's to say they couldn't get a touchdown and two field goals with that offense to beat us. Plus, when you fail on a two-point play, it's a momentum play, a downer."
On Sunday against the Lions, the Packers trailed 14-12 after scoring a second-quarter touch-down. They went for two but were unsuccessful. After pulling ahead 18-17 on a third-quarter touchdown, Green Bay had to try a two-pointer to stretch its lead to three. The Packers converted and scratched out a 26-17 win, but again, why roll the dice so early in a close game?
Considering how ineffective teams have become at converting two-pointers (chart, left), coaches would be wise to keep those cheat sheets in their back pockets until the fourth quarter. Why are offenses struggling? "You're in a confined area," says Giants coach Jim Fassel. "You can't run guys down the field and hope the underneath opens up. There is no underneath. So even though you're going from the two-yard line [colleges spot the ball on the three], the holes are so much smaller. It's tough to make a fourth-and-two at the goal line."
Last week Ross continued to defend his strategy against the Cardinals, saying he hadn't wanted to risk going into overtime because his team was so battered. "I know [the two-point attempt] creates more pressure on the coach," Ross says, "and I know it can be controversial. But I think it's good for the game." If not for the Lions.
Chargers Boss On the Hot Seat
Given the Chargers' painfully weak recent drafts, it is little wonder that they are foundering in their usual spot near the bottom of the AFC West. The release last week of wideout Bryan Still, the club's top pick in 1996, was the latest in a series of embarrassments for the man once considered the best talent scout in the game. Now the question around San Diego is whether general manager Bobby Beathard's annual ritual of impetuously trading future first-round draft choices for more immediate second-round picks might cost him his job. "My plan is to be here," says Beathard, the 62-year-old architect of the strong Redskins teams of the '80s. "But at the end of the year I will ask myself, Am I hurting this team? I don't want to stay on if I feel that I am. I won't let my ego get in the way of what's best for the team."
Beathard, who joined the Chargers in 1990, has left himself with only one first-round draft choice since 1994. That was last year, when he shipped a king's ransom, including his '99 No. 1, to the Cardinals to move up one spot and select quarterback Ryan Leaf with the second pick. None of the other top choices Beathard has made for San Diego during that six-year span is close to being a franchise player or even a star. The Chargers have taken guard Isaac Davis (43rd choice), cornerback Terrance Shaw (34th), Still (41st), tight end Freddie Jones (45th) and fullback Jermaine Fazande (60th).
San Diego doesn't have a first-round pick next April, either. To get into position to select wideout Mikhael Ricks in the second round in '98, Beathard peddled San Diego's first-round pick in 2000 to the Buccaneers. Ricks, who played at Division I-AA Stephen F. Austin, has caught 53 passes in 26 games.