KRAVITZ: It was foolish and it was reckless: Reich delivers Texans an OT victory on a silver platter

(Photo: Houston Texans/Twitter)
Bob Kravitz

I can hear the True Blue Believers already, hailing Frank Reich as a man who plays to win, not tie. I can see them twisting themselves into little knots attempting to justify Reich's atrocious and mind-numbing decision to go for it on fourth-and-4 at his own 43-yard line with 24 seconds left in overtime. In fact, I just returned from the Colts' losing locker room and listened to a bunch of hokum about how Reich showed supreme confidence in them, how he showed he's in it to win it and this loss – a 37-34 OT loss to Houston that Reich gifted the Texans -- will somehow help the Colts in the long term.

It's nonsense.

It's all nonsense.

Herm Edwards once said, "You play to win the game,'' and that's fine as far as it goes, but there's something to be said for playing to tie when you've run completely out of viable options. Ties are unsatisfying and difficult to fathom – why doesn't the NFL adopt the college overtime? – but a tie is better than a loss. It's true; I looked it up. Even if you somehow believe that Reich's gambit made sense – sort of Son of Belichick's Fourth-and-2 – then explain to me why the Colts initially attempted to draw the Texans offsides, then burned a valuable timeout to further discuss the matter.

"We're not playing to tie,'' Reich said, addressing the decision before anybody had the chance to ask about it. "We're going for it 10 times out of 10. In a perfect scenario, we just go for it and don't call timeout (after the attempt to draw the Texans offsides). But that's not how it played out. That's on me.

"I need to not flinch there and we need to get it done. Ideal situation is we don't call a timeout because you're probably not going to draw them offsides. The only second-guessing is, do I just go with it right away without talking it through (during a timeout, Indy's second of three timeouts)?''

So let's try and follow. Reich second-guessed himself for burning a valuable timeout (fine) but would go for it 10 times out of 10 in that situation (not fine). Honestly, that scares me. It's one thing to be a riverboat gambler, but it's quite another to split a pair of face cards. Are ties really that awful, especially when you've come all the way back from a 28-10 third-quarter deficit?

On a day when Andrew Luck played his best game since his return, on a day when the defense played well enough to win (two Houston touchdowns came courtesy of Indianapolis turnovers deep in their own territory), the Colts deserved better than a bit, fat, ugly loss to a division rival.

As you can imagine, the players were in lockstep in support of their head coach because, well, that's what players do when microphones are put in their face. Dissent is not acceptable in a locker room. Not when other people are listening, anyway.

"I loved it,'' Luck said. "We had a discussion before the play and I agreed. We didn't execute well enough. I didn't give Chester enough of a chance to make a play and I'm sick to my stomach about it. I know Frank's not second guessing it.''

There's no question, coaches skew to the conservative side on fourth-down calls, largely in an effort to cover their own behinds. And most of the time, they are analytically incorrect; the numbers often bear out the fact that it makes sense to roll the dice. In last year's Super Bowl, Reich's mentor, Doug Pederson, consistently went against the grain and went for broke on fourth-down attempts, and it paid off. Belichick has been going for it on fourth downs for years, notably because he's well ahead of his colleagues in virtually every area of the game.

But the risk here made no sense.

Now, I'm sure there are some analytics experts out there who will justify Reich's decision with a bunch of numbers that elude my prehistoric understanding, but I know this in my bones: A tie is better than a loss. Especially within the division. Especially when you're taking this chance without Jack Doyle (who missed the game with an injury) and T.Y. Hilton, who injured his hamstring and left the game. Especially when your defense is gassed after spending more than 40 minutes on the field.

You blow this fourth-down play – and they did, with Luck's throw nose-diving at Rogers' feet -- you lose the game…period. You set up Deshaun Watson and a terrific receiving corps on the Colts' 43-yard line with 24 seconds left in the game, and you're just begging to be put out of your misery. At which point, Watson and the Texans happily, incredulously obliged and went on to win the game with a short field goal.

There's aggressive, which is great.

And then there's foolish, which is not.

You know that Reich honeymoon? Yeah, it's over. Took a month, but it's over.

Just as Chuck Pagano had the Fake Punt on his everlasting resume, Reich now has Fourth-and-Oh-My-God-What's-He-Doing?

The shame of it is, the Colts once again lost a game they had a chance to win. Against Cincinnati, a late Doyle fumble doomed them. In Philly, there were the red-zone follies. And now this. Moreover, this was the game when Luck loudly announced his return, becoming just the second player in NFL history to lose with 450 passing yards, four passing TD's and no interceptions, according to ESPN Stats & Info. He was marvelous in the second half, throwing for 250 of those yards, most of them without Hilton. Watching Luck play catch with Zach Pascal and Marcus Johnson, it recalled the old days when Peyton Manning made folks like Craphonso Thorpe and Devin Aromashodu look like first-team Pro Bowlers. A week ago, there was justifiable reason for concern about Luck's arm strength. This week, he was the old Luck, showing just how special he can be if the Colts can ever build a team around him.

In the aftermath, there will be a lot of chatter about how one play does not win or lose a game, how a football game is a tapestry of moments, like when Marcus Johnson dropped a sure pass when the Colts were looking at third-and-2 at the Houston 25 in overtime. There were a lot of game-changers in a game that veered wildly off track, not the least of which was Ryan Kelly's uncharacteristic snap snafu, which gave Houston seven easy points. But when all the madness had finally subsided, there was Reich, alone in his own thoughts, making the only decision he couldn't make in that situation.

He'd go for it 10 times out of 10 in that situation. All 10 times, he would be dead wrong.

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