Worldly wisdom teaches that it is better for the reputation to fail conventionally than to succeed unconventionally. —John Maynard Keynes
Keynes’ insight has a natural corollary, which Bill Belichick, coach of the New England Patriots, learned painfully on Sunday: to fail unconventionally is really, really bad for your reputation.
As described by Steve Levitt over at the Freakonomics blog, Belichick “made a decision in the final minutes that led his team the New England Patriots to defeat. It will likely go down as one of the most criticized decisions any coach has ever made. With his team leading by six points and just over two minutes left in the game, he elected to go for it on fourth down on his own side of the field. His offense failed to get the first down, and the Indianapolis Colts promptly drove for a touchdown.”
As Steve notes, the interesting thing about this decision is that (a) Belichick has endured blistering criticism, but (b) he may well have made the right decision. According to calculations by multiple analysts (e.g., here and here), Belichick’s maximized the chance that the Patriots would win. He just got unlucky.
Belichick must have known that he was risking the wrath of Monday morning quarterbacks if the play didn’t work out. But he chose to play the odds despite that risk. That’s a great attitude. Keynes would be proud.