JUDGE: Mornhinweg makes wrong calls in OT

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Clark Judge

The problem with what Detroit coach Marty Mornhinweg did when he chose to kick off Sunday after winning the coin toss in overtime has nothing to do with odds and everything to do with common sense.

In fact, the odds said that Mornhinweg stood a 50-50 chance of winning. In the 332 overtime games that preceded Sunday¿s game (and there now are 334, thanks to this one and the Sunday night game), teams that won the coin toss elected to kick off only eight times.

And four of them were winners.

One was the 1997 Denver . One was the 1988 . One was the 1987 New York . And one was the 1986 Chicago . Quick, now, what did all of them have in common? Uh-huh, they could play defense.

The ¿97 ranked 5th in overall defense; the ¿88 were 8th; the ¿87 were 7th, and the ¿86 were impregnable. They allowed no more than 14 points in 13 of their 16 regular-season games, including the last seven.

Now along come the 2002 Detroit . Not only were they the NFL¿s 30th-ranked defense entering Sunday¿s game, but nobody allowed more points. I know Detroit¿s defenders played courageously, holding the to one touchdown in three quarters, but they also were exhausted when overtime arrived — having been gashed for 144 yards and 10 points in the last 2:33 of regulation.

Mornhinweg should have considered that as carefully as he did the breezes blowing through Champaign.

Sure, by declining to receive he defied convention, but the odds of having at least one possession were in his favor. Since overtimes began for regular-season play in 1974 the team receiving the kick scores 28 percent of the time — which means the team doing the kicking has a 72 percent chance of seeing the ball at least once.

Which is what Mornhinweg counted on.

But this is where he gambled: Of the 17 overtime games this season, seven were decided on the first possessions — including two on Sunday. That¿s a 41 percent rate of success that doesn¿t bode well for anyone who kicks off ¿ especially when that team can¿t play defense.

Still, the might have survived were it not for another coaching error — this one a decision to accept a penalty on a third-down incompletion. Instead of making the punt from the ¿ 35, Mornhinweg forced them into a third-and-18 from the 45. No problem, Chicago¿s simply completed the next two passes for 20 yards. Four plays later, kicked a 40-yard field goal, and Chicago¿s eight-game losing streak was over.

With both decisions — declining to receive a kickoff and accepting a penalty — Mornhinweg failed to act in the best interests of a weary defense. The ¿ defense was on the field for the last 23 plays and 35 of the final 39, and I saw what that did to the Oakland when they tried to withstand a ¿ barrage for the last 30 snaps of their Nov. 3 overtime loss.

It finished them.

The odds should have had nothing to do with this decision. Common sense should.

History said Mornhinweg wasn¿t running an extraordinary risk by making an extraordinary decision, but history wasn¿t and shouldn¿t have been a factor here. Detroit¿s defense was. And it should have been.

The four who made it

Here¿s what happened to the four clubs who won the coin toss, elected to kick off and did what Detroit could not on Sunday. They won.

  • Oct. 26, 1997 — Denver 23, Buffalo 20. At Buffalo. After the fail on two drives and Denver short-circuits on one, Denver¿s returns a punt to the Denver 42. From there, the march to the Buffalo 15 where kicks a 33-yard field goal at 13:04.

  • Oct. 9, 1988 — Denver 16, San Francisco 13. At San Francisco. The intercept quarterback Steve Young twice, the second time returning the ball to the ¿ 5. Two plays later, Rich Karlis kicks a 22-yard field goal at 8:11.

  • Dec. 6, 1987 — New York 23, Philadelphia 20. At New York. After trading punts, New York kicker Raul Allegre has a 50-yard field goal blocked by Philadelphia¿s Seth Joyner, but the do nothing on offense. So Phil McConkey returns a punt to the ¿ 44, the G-Men drive the length of the field and Allegre kicks a 28-yard field goal at 10:42.

  • Nov. 30, 1986 — Chicago 13, Pittsburgh 10. At Chicago. Lew Barnes returns a punt to the ¿ 49, and, five plays later, Kevin Butler nails a 42-yard field goal at 3:55. Clark Judge can be reached at his e-mail address,
  • Tagged: Falcons, Bills, Bears, Broncos, Lions, Packers, Raiders, Giants, Eagles, Chris Mohr, Paul Edinger, Jim Miller, Jason Elam

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