Analytics research has consistently shown that coaches should go for it on fourth down more often than they do. The Bills were 2-for-2 on fourth down attempts in the AFC Championship against the Kansas City Chiefs. But Buffalo head coach Sean McDermott found himself defending two fourth downs the Bills did not attempt inside the Chiefs 10-yard line following a 38-24 loss.
His answer was not what fans and the media expected.
McDermott told Pro Football Focus that he worried about going for it on fourth down and seeing his team get discouraged if they failed. He said “morale” was a big part of the reason for kicking field goals instead of attacking the goal line twice on short fourth downs inside the Chiefs 8 yard line.
Taking 3 points at the very end of the first half was a percentage play and cut the Chiefs lead to 21-12. The Bills were on the 2-yard line after a short third-down completion by QB Josh Allen, and McDermott decided to kick following a 12-play, 73-yard drive.
But the second time midway through the third quarter trailing 24-12 had to make Bills fans bristle with anguish. Needing touchdowns against the explosive Chiefs offense, McDermott settled for a field goal again on 4th-and-3 from the Chiefs 8-yard line.
Now leading 24-15, the Chiefs scored quickly on their next possession to extend the lead to 16 points and practically put the Bills away going into the fourth quarter.
The Bills led the league in fourth-down conversion rate (80%) going 8-for-10 during the regular season. Josh Allen won games all season long for the Bills with his passing and running skills. Coach McDermott had been aggressive throughout the season and the Bills offense responded well. But needing points to outscore the Chiefs, McDermott took the ball out of Allen's hands and settled for field goals.
The Bills were on the doorstep of making the Super Bowl, but kicked away their chance to go for touchdowns and more points when they needed them most.
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