Nick Sirianni: I Would Punt The Ball Back To Patrick Mahomes Again
2:50 PM EST on February 20, 2023
The biggest play in the Super Bowl did not take place on the field. It came when Eagles coach Nick Sirianni decided to punt the ball on fourth-and-3 in the fourth quarter with his team down a point. I was so angry when he punted. I knew it was the wrong play. I wrote that I would never forgive Sirianni for punting there.
I still haven't, but I hope it is obvious that my post contains some exaggeration for comedic effect. Though Sirianni does not know me or know that I am mad at him—or would even care if he did—I was graciously prepared to offer him a chance to get back into my good graces in my head canon. He wasn’t asked about the punt after the Super Bowl, so that chance would come in his press conference last week with Eagles beat writers. There are a lot of beats for the Eagles, and they are not shy about asking basically anything. Bo Wulf, of The Athletic, asked Sirianni about the punt in the first question of the presser. So, why’d you punt, coach? Would you think about changing your mind in the future? And were you aware that Patrick Mahomes was the quarterback of the opposing team, to which you were punting the ball? (These were not Wulf’s exact words.)
“I know I’ve been aggressive all year going for it,” Sirianni said Thursday. “Really trust our guys in scenarios. I think fourth-and-3, on your own 30, what was it, 33? Yeah, I think you would get 32 out of 32 NFL coaches saying they punt that ball every time, 32 out of 32.”
“Hey, if I had known they were going to return it to the 4, in hindsight, I think obviously I would have gone for it there,” Sirianni said with a heavy dose of gallows humor. “But no regrets there. That is not in my thought process right there.”
Originally my post last week about Sirianni was much meaner. But then my friend Ron Adams, an Eagles obsessive who has watched every round of the NFL Draft since 1999, cautioned me against getting too angry about it. Sirianni got the Eagles to the Super Bowl in his second year on the job. He was generally aggressive all year long; the Eagles really were in their own end. Maybe once I'd heard what Sirianni had to say about the decision to punt, when he talked, I’d be less interested in committing to an article where I called him a big wimp in the headline. Adams made some good points, and my prescribed 100mg dosage of lamotrigine had kicked in by the time I filed. I softened the blog a bit. I thought it was the right decision.
Now I’m not just mad at Sirianni. I am mad at Ron, too. I should’ve been meaner! Obviously Sirianni was prepared for this question. His answer was crap. Sorry, I’m still in softy-mode here. His answer was shit!
Saying that 32 out of 32 coaches would punt in that scenario is not a great defense. I also do not believe it is true. Thirty-one out of 32 coaches believe a center should snap the football on the final play of your season, but Mike McCarthy doesn’t. If “the football should be snapped by the center” is up for debate among NFL coaches, surely everything else is.
Sirianni's reasoning in other areas is flawed, too, I think. The long punt return by Kadarius Toney was not exactly terrible. If Toney fair catches the punt, maybe the Chiefs run a huge chunk of clock before scoring a touchdown, and the Eagles don’t even have enough time to come down the field and score a game-tying touchdown. (Ron put this possible outcome into my head. He’s off my crap list now!)
A coach can’t just go by a model to decide football decisions. Computer modeling strongly suggesting that the Eagles should go for it on fourth-and-3 from their own 32 while down a point in the fourth quarter of the Super Bowl does not by itself mean that a coach should just go for it. The decision has to be made in context, which means that coaches should also be looking at how the game is flowing, at the strength of the opposing offense, at how the defense has been playing. And I think it was clear that the Eagles defense could not stop the Chiefs offense after halftime. One way to reach this conclusion was noticing that they had blown a 10-point lead already. As mentioned earlier, Patrick Mahomes was the opposing quarterback. Whatever the computer-modeled odds, whatever the conventional wisdom, the challenge facing the Eagles had revealed itself. They needed to keep scoring if they were going to win.
By his own admission, Sirianni didn’t think of any of that. He punted the ball. He has no regrets. It wasn’t even in his thought process. He had a great season as Eagles coach. He could’ve been coach of the year. And then, in the Super Bowl, he choked. If Sirianni did know who I was, I’d be telling him to lose my number.