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It’s Not Always About What A Coach Decides To Do

Michael Reaves/Getty Images

There are certain arguments we no longer need to have. Last night, down three to the Titans and with just 22 seconds left on the clock, Bills coach Sean McDermott chose to go for it on fourth-and-half-a-yard from the Titans’ three. By now, you should know that if an NFL team is presented with a mathematically favorable chance to win a game, they should take that chance. The Bills still had a timeout left. They also had a quarterback with a plasma cannon for an arm and who is also built like a fucking tree. They also were facing the prospect of overtime against Derrick Henry when Derrick Henry was having a Derrick Henry Game. The decision made sense. It failed anyway. Here’s Josh Allen getting stoned, thus sealing Buffalo’s doom.

Because the Bills ate shit just before the gun last night, you can do the advanced form of armchair coaching that I enjoy, where you agree with the decision to go for it but—say it with me—you didn’t like the play call. Sure, a QB sneak is almost always the right move in short yardage, but the reason the Bills were facing fourth-and-nothing in the first place was because Allen had just done an Elway-style helicopter reaching for the yard marker on the previous play. He was probably a little tired, which I’ll now definitively proclaim as the reason why he was sluggish after the snap on that last meaningful play, causing him to slip on the turf and also giving the Titans defensive line enough time to seal up every gap like they were about to throw a block party in the end zone.

Meanwhile, Mike Vrabel executed some quality fuckups of his own during the endgame. He kept all of his timeouts in the holster all the way up that final play, leaving the Titans offense no time at all to answer if Buffalo had kicked a field goal to tie or, as it seemed more likely on a night where the Bills tallied over 400 yards of offense and nearly doubled up the Titans on first downs, scored a TD and took the lead outright. It’s the same mistake Bill Belichick made in the Super Bowl against the Seahawks six years ago, only to watch Malcolm Butler bail his ass out for a title. You can be a shithead and re-imagine Belichick’s fuckup as some kind of masterstroke. Or you can believe, as I do, that the greatest coach of all time can still occasionally be a strategic moron. Somewhere out there, two people of no consequence are drunk and re-litigating this argument as we speak.

But if you take away anything from last night—apart from HOLY SHIT THAT WAS FUCKING AWESOME—it’s that these big decisions aren’t always as vital as people like you and me might think them to be. A coach can push the percentages a few points in either direction with his decision-making, but ultimately that's all just table setting. The part that matters, the part that's fun, is up to the players. It didn't matter what Belichick decided, or even what the MENSA duo of Darrell Bevell and Pete Carroll decided at the end of that particular Super Bowl. All that mattered in the biggest moment of the game was that Butler made the play of his life. And all that mattered last night was that Titans’ DT Jeffery Simmons made ghosts of the Bills O-line interior and shoved Allen back into middle school.

"We know if the quarterback come under the center like that, we anticipate sneak. That was the play I thought they were gonna run and they did," Simmons told reporters after the game. "I was inside of the tackle, got my head on the tackle, quarterback right there, he tried to get low. Just put my big arms around him, he can't move so, he was short."

It’s easy to lay it all on coaches. They’re annoying, stupid people. Also, your mind naturally gravitates toward simple hypothetical solutions. If the Bills kick the field goal, they probably win that game in overtime. Or what if they had run play action on that fourth down? The Titans would have been paralyzed. Etc., etc. These are, superficially speaking, easy decisions to make. They’re decisions YOU could make. You’re not a big strong NFL player. But you are a caustic dipshit who can bark orders into a headset. It’d be easy for you to handle that endgame capably. I know that’s how I always think of it.

But all of those sliding doors are ultimately a boring distraction. The Titans deserved to win that game last night, and win it they did. Best of all, McDermott’s and Vrabel’s collective decision-making gave Tennessee’s defense a chance to finish off the game in the most thrilling possible fashion. I’m HAPPY those guys mismanaged their game plans in that exact way, because it demanded that the Titans pull a rabbit out of their ass and make the best play they possibly could, at the best time to make it. And they did.

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