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Pat Shurmur's decision at the end of Bengals game is just a typical head coach dilemma on game day

Sep 17, 2012 -- 4:33pm

By Tony Grossi


Extra Points …

Second-guessing game: In each of his first two games this season, coach Pat Shurmur has faced a decision on which he could be second-guessed.

Against Philadelphia, it was whether to go for a two-point conversion when up, 15-10, with just about the full fourth quarter to go. Shurmur kicked the extra point and eventually lost the game, 17-16.

Shurmur said it was too early in his mind to go for two because he thought if the Browns missed, the Eagles could win the game with two field goals and “it had the feel of a field-goal game.” The two-point “cheat sheet,” on which some coaches – but not all – confer, says to go for two when leading by five, no matter how much time remains.

On Sunday in Cincinnati, Shurmur arrived at another head coach’s dilemma.

After the Bengals went ahead, 34-24, with 2:09 to play, Brandon Weeden sped his offense down the field in a way familiar to him from his Oklahoma State days. Operating out of the shotgun on virtually every play, with no huddle and no timeouts, Weeden moved the Browns from their 35-yard line to the Bengals 7 in six plays and 1 minute, 34 seconds.

At third down from the 7, Weeden, strangely, moved under center and threw incomplete for Josh Cribbs. The clock stopped.

Fourth down at the 7. Twenty-four seconds to go. Down by 10. The Browns need two scores to tie the game (or win). So the question is: do you try for the touchdown right there because you’re so close, or do you take the chip-shot field goal?

Shurmur didn’t hesitate in kicking the 25-yard field goal to close the deficit to 34-27.

I asked Shurmur on Monday if he would always kick the field goal in that situation to get the easy points first.

“Absolutely,” he responded. “Cuz here’s what happens. We were faced with roughly two minutes, down by two scores. You need to score once, you need to get the onside kick and then you need to score again.

“Now, in and around getting an onside kick, who cares what the score is? Because had we gone for it on fourth down and not made it, game over. So that’s philosophically where I’m at.”

First of all, the chances of recovering an onside kick when everybody is expecting it are remote. Most successful onside kicks happen when they are surprises. But I have seen onside kicks work in the same situation. Remember when the Bears under coach Dick Jauron beat the Browns in Chicago in 2002 with an onside kick and then a Hail Mary TD to send a game into overtime?

The decision depends on field position and time. But it would seem that Weeden had the Bengals’ defense on its heels on the drive, so why not give him a shot for the end zone on fourth down?

That way, if you are lucky enough to convert an onside kick near mid-field, you only need, what, 12 yards to give Phil Dawson a decent chance at a game-tying field goal?

“I guess you could consider it … Somebody would have had to grab me by the neck and tackle me (not to go for field goal first),” Shurmur said. “You get the points, make an effort to get the onside kick and try to score again. Because in my mind you have to make three plays – score, onside kick and score again.”

That logic brings up another question. If getting the first score is so important, which it is, why not kick the field goal five plays earlier from the Bengals’ 21 with 1:14 left on the clock?

Kicking the field goal is the conservative way to go, for sure. But you’d better leave yourself enough time to execute an onside kick and have room for a couple of plays after that.

The bottom line is head coaches have tons of decisions to make in a game, and not all of them have easy answers.

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