Published: 03 February 2015
Yes. With 1:06 left to play, SEA snapped the ball on a 1st and goal from the NE 5, and Marshawn Lynch ran it to the NE 1. At this point, Belichick had a decision to make. With 2 timeouts remaining, he could stop the clock preserving time for a possible comeback FG drive to tie the game if SEA scores. Or, he could let the clock run, save his timeouts, and let SEA deal with the added pressure of clock management.
Clearly, SEA had a preference. They took the full 40 seconds getting the 2nd down play off, trying to take as much time off the clock as possible. They anticipated scoring quickly and did not want NE to have enough time to respond. We all know the final outcome, but that could not have been anticipated with any confidence at the time of Belichick's decision.
At the time, I thought it was a big mistake by NE not to use a timeout. If SEA scores on the next play, NE has over 50 seconds left and a timeout to respond, which is plenty of time for a FG drive in the modern game. And if SEA takes 2 plays to score, NE could use their final timeout to preserve over 45 seconds to respond, still enough time for a FG. There are a lot of different paths based on when or if SEA could score, so the simulator is probably the right tool for this analysis. I set the WOPR to run two scenarios
, one in which NE calls a timeout, and one in which they let SEA run the clock down.
The results say using the timeout is the better option by a confident margin. The simulated win probability for using the timeout is 0.231 sWP, and for not using the timeout is 0.189 sWP. (The two results are well outside 4 standard errors of each other.)
The difference of about 4 percentage points of win probability means that NE would have about an 8 to 10% chance at a comeback FG drive to tie, which is consistent with endgame drive percentages.
I don't buy the suggestion that Belichick could anticipate that SEA would burn so much time before the second down snap that they'd be forced to throw at least once, which would take Lynch out of the equation for a play, and so on. There's just way too many assumptions and possibilities to consider. I'd buy that he could, generally, prefer to put all the pressure on SEA. However, the cost of doing so forfeit any opportunity to respond. The final outcome aside, I think Belichick should have used his timeout.