Falcons' terrible decision to kick a late field goal from the 1-yard line cost them a chance to win

The Atlanta Falcons lost to Blaine Gabbert and the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday, 17-16, in large part because of a late-game coaching blunder by Falcons’ head coach Dan Quinn.

With exactly three minutes left in the 4th quarter, trailing 17-13, the Falcons had a 4th-and-goal opportunity from the 49ers’ 1-yard line.

Do you take the points and rely on the defence to get another stop — against Gabbert and the lowly Niners, no less — or do you go for the touchdown?

By just about every advanced metric, going for it on 4th-and-1, or 4th-and-goal from the 1-yard line is more advantageous than kicking the field goal. Going for the TD would have given the Falcons a 48.6% win probability, whereas the field goal attempt dropped them down to just a 27% chance to win the game (per ESPN).

Goal line conversions are successful about 55% of the time, but Quinn decided to send out his kicker for the chip-shot FG, who cut Atlanta’s lead to one.

The Falcons never got the ball back.

As ESPN’s Brian Burke notes, this particular instance was a long yard, but notes that even if the 49ers had gotten a stop on 4th down, they would have been pinned on their own 1-yard line. The Falcons would have had plenty of time to get a stop of their own and get the ball back with good field position.

The “taking the points” debate is not a new one in football, but this particular instance is about as clear-cut as it gets. Just ask the New York Times’ 4th-down Bot, which uses analytics to decide whether a team should punt, kick a field goal, or go for it on every 4th down of the football season:

 

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