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Why going for 2 was the right decision for the Giants

Converting would have put Giants in a position to win

NFL: New York Giants at Atlanta Falcons
Pat Shurmur signals for a two-point conversion attempt in the fourth quarter.
Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

There was a lot to talk about coming out of the New York Giants’ 23-20 loss to the Atlanta Falcons on Monday night, but perhaps the biggest of which was Pat Shurmur’s decision to go for two after the Giants scored a touchdown to trail by eight.

The conversion failed, but it was the right call. Shurmur defended the decision in the post-game press conference by saying the Giants had previously had internal discussions on the math of going for two in that situation. It’s one of the most obvious places to go for two but has largely been ignored. There’s also not even a super complicated reason behind it.

Let’s start with the simplest math to explain going for it. Two-point conversions are around a 50-50 shot. If you convert the first attempt, an extra point on your next touchdown gives you the lead with a PAT. Failing on the conversion gives you still a 50-50 chance at converting after the second touchdown to tie the game, a place you would be anyway if you had kicked the extra point after the first touchdown. But if you add those probabilities together, it’s a move that works 50 percent of the time (conversion on the first attempt), comes out neutral (a failure then conversion for a tie) 25 percent of the time, and fails completely (two failures) just 25 percent of the time. Those are good odds.

Here is Shurmur’s post-game explanation for the decision:

“You increase your chances by 50-percent if you go for it and make it there, so that’s what you do. Because then if you score a touchdown, we just kick the extra point and win\,” he said. “I felt good about the two-point play. You guys saw that, I think we got the ball in there, right? And we just didn’t connect on it. And again, I think it’s an aggressive approach. I’m going to take myself back to the one game we didn’t use timeouts before the halftime. I told you I’d never do that again, and I think from a head coaching perspective, I want to be aggressive for our guys.”

We should also not the Giants did successfully convert on their second two-point try that would have tied the game if not for the 56-yard field goal allowed on the following drive. A defensive stand is a must in either scenario.

In the grand scheme of things, the advantage of a team being down by six points is much bigger than the disadvantage of being down by eight points late in the game. Being down six gives a clear path for a win, while the other options are only to play for a tie.

All teams should do this more often, but especially a team like the Giants, who as an underdog, should take as many scoring opportunities they can get on the road to shorten the game. Pushing the game into overtime gives the Giants a much smaller chance to actually win than a successful two-point conversion down by eight. It’s an important distinction of trying to improve chances to win instead of possibly delay losing.

It was just two weeks ago when this discussion first arose when Doug Pederson and the Philadelphia Eagles went for two after going down eight against the Minnesota Vikings in Week 5. The Eagles converted, but two drives later allowed a field goal and ultimately lost 23-21 after a late touchdown — again a defensive stand is needed no matter the go or not go decision.

It’s worth wondering if the Giants had these internal conversations about the math around this situation earlier in the season or if Pederson and the Eagles are what sparked it. Either way, it’s a smart conversation to have and the fact Shurmur listened and defended the process after the game even though it didn’t work is a good sign for his decision making going forward.


Was going for 2 points down 20-12 late in the fourth quarter the right decision by Giants’ coach Pat Shurmur?

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