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The great debate over going for two found fresh fodder on Sunday when the Baltimore Ravens gambled the outcome of their game against the Green Bay Packers on one final play.
Video released on Monday showed how the decision went down on the Baltimore sideline.
After the Ravens scored a late touchdown to cut their deficit to 31-30, head coach John Harbaugh rolled the dice on a two-point conversion with the game on the line. Convert, and they take the lead with 42 seconds remaining. Fail, and they're left to a desperation onside kick attempt to keep hope alive. Overtime with Aaron Rodgers on the opposing sideline was not an option.
Was 2-point attempt the right call?
Backup quarterback Tyler Huntley, who'd played well on a four-touchdown day in place of injured former MVP Lamar Jackson, failed to find tight end Mark Andrews in the end zone, and the Packers walked away with victory intact after nearly blowing a 14-point fourth-quarter lead.
It was an "I-told-you-so" moment for analytics skeptics who pointed to the loss as further evidence against taking calculated risks when football's at stake. For the analytics community, of course, it was a juncture to further advocate for process over results. Just because it didn't work out this time doesn't mean it was a bad decision. And if the Ravens made a strategic mistake, it was in not going for two earlier in the game.
Harbaugh involved Huntley, veterans in 2-point decision
For Harbaugh, it was a moment to to show trust in Huntley and his offense while involving them in the decision-making process. He said on Sunday his decision wasn't strictly based on the numbers which he declared "are never gonna be perfect."
"It's mostly gut," Harbaugh told reporters.
Video released Monday showed the process of Harbaugh's decision. It involved asking Huntley what he wanted to do.
“That was the right move.”
Coach Harbaugh was Wired yesterday vs. the Packers as he talked with players about the decision to go for the two-point conversion at the end of the game. pic.twitter.com/0gaFqfKRw3
— Baltimore Ravens (@Ravens) December 20, 2021
Harbaugh to Huntley on the sideline: "When we score the second touchdown, do you want me to go for two and try to win it right there, or do you want to go to overtime?"
Huntley: "Go for two."
When Huntley scrambled for the late touchdown to cut Baltimore's deficit to one point, Harbaugh asked his assistants through his headset: "Do we want to kick it or go for it? What do you all think?"
He then asked Huntley and a group of veteran offensive players including Andrews and running back Latavius Murray for their thoughts.
"We can kick this and go to overtime and we're in good shape," Harbaugh said. "Or we try to win it here and try to keep them out of field-goal range. ... We can go to overtime or we can go for it."
His players again supported going for it. So they did. And they failed. And afterward, Harbaugh and Edwards hugged out while the Ravens veteran supported his coach for making "the right move."
Harbaugh's been on the forefront of NFL risk-taking amid an analytics revolution. It's a luxury not always afforded to coaches without 14 years of tenure and a Super Bowl win whose job status is more dependent on individual wins and losses. Judging from Monday's video, Harbaugh's players support his calls, win or lose.