Oh Foxball, don’t rear your ugly head tomorrow

Earlier in the week, John Fox spoke about his last trip to the Super Bowl, when the Patriots knocked off his Panthers a decade ago:

From that actual game, I think I learned at that time not to chase two-point plays too early in the fourth quarter. So like everything, you live and learn, and that’s probably the biggest thing from a strategy standpoint.

Obviously, the hope here is that Denver doesn't need any two-point conversions to stay in tomorrow's game.

But this is a really scary quote from Fox.

Admittedly, I thought the very same thing for several years - that Fox's decision to go for two points after DeShaun Foster's touchdown had cost his team the game.

Here's how the wild fourth quarter played out:

Foster had brought the Panthers to within 21-16 with 12:48 remaining, and Jake Delhomme's subsequent pass to Muhsin Muhammad fell incomplete, leaving Carolina down by five.

Five minutes later, following a red-zone pick of Tom Brady (!), Delhomme and Muhammad connected on an 85-yard touchdown, and Fox opted to again go for two, to put his team up by a field goal.

This time, Delhomme and Kevin Dyson were unable to convert, and the Panthers were left with a slim 22-21 lead.

New England scored a touchdown on their next possession, on a pass from Brady to linebacker Mike Vrabel, and Kevin Faulk ran in the two-pointer to put the Pats up 29-22.

When Delhomme responded with a coldblooded, 80-yard, 90-second touchdown drive, Carolina kicked the extra point to knot the score at 29.

From there, John Kasay kicked the ball out of bounds, Brady moved the Pats 37 yards, and Adam Vinatieri kicked his second SB-winning field goal.

Here's the lesson I assume Fox took away from that loss:

Had he just kicked the extra point after Foster's touchdown, the score would have been 21-17 in favor of New England.

The next touchdown would have made it 23-21, and the extra point would be a no-brainer, putting the Panthers up 24-21, with a field goal's cushion.

New England wouldn't have gone for two on Vrabel's score, and would have then led by 28-24.

Thus, Delhomme's epic drive would have been to put the Panthers up by three instead of just tie the game.

Instead of driving for the winning FG, Brady and Vinatieri would have just tied it at 31, sending the game to overtime.

Now, here's what's wrong with that logic, which I myself had employed, admittedly, for years:

  1. Obviously, if one were to go back and change a score in the middle of a game, one cannot also assume that everything else would have played out the same way. Perhaps Brady doesn't throw the interception, New England kicks a FG to go up 24-17, and then we're essentially right back where we're started. We can play this game all day.
  2. What if the Panthers had actually converted one of those two-point attempts? Does that alter how we view the decisions? We should focus on the process, not the outcome. Mike Holmgren was correct to allow the Broncos to score their last touchdown in SB 32 (again, something I myself came around to realizing much later on), but because he lost the game, most will say he screwed up.
  3. Carolina could have stopped Faulk's two-point conversion, leaving the Pats up 27-22. If Delhomme still leads his 80-yard drive, Fox clearly would go for two a third time, and if they convert there, the Panthers are up three in the final minute.
  4. And if we really want to lean on hindsight, then Fox could have chosen to kick the extra point the second time, settling for a two-point advantage at 23-21. From there, the Pats probably don't go for two, and perhaps Carolina has a late 30-29 lead, and the end plays out differently.
  5. All of this second guessing is about thinking the Panthers might have won the game, had Vinatieri's final kick been to tie the score, rather than win it. But remember - that would have potentially left the outcome up to a coin flip, as is always the case with overtime in the NFL, even with the current rules. Carolina still might have lost in overtime; they may never have even touched the ball, aside from kicking off. Anything can happen beyond regulation, and if anyone knows this, it is John Fox.

Most importantly, to us, is what's wrong with Fox carrying this lesson forward with him to this day:

Fox - and the people who defend his decision to kneel out the clock against Baltimore last year - love to talk about how each team, game, and situation is different. He, and they, claim that Fox had the pulse of the 2012 Broncos, and that in that moment, he foresaw potential disaster in giving Peyton Manning a chance to do what he'd already done countless times in his career.

Well, if Fox is consistent with that line of thinking, then he should not have a hard and fast rule to avoid two-point attempts until they're absolutely necessary.

Especially when he's got the most prolific offense in NFL history at his disposal.

Hell, when it really comes down to it, these Broncos should have gone for two after every touchdown they scored. But that's another story, for another time.

Those 2003 Panthers scored just 325 points - 15th in the league and 281 fewer than the 2013 Broncos. They were a classic middling Cinderella team, with a point differential of just +21 (16th best), and an expected W-L of 8.6-7.4 to go with an actual record of 11-5.

Then, as ever, Delhomme was a turnover machine, with 16 interceptions and 15 fumbles (lost or recovered), against just 20 total touchdowns.

But they almost pulled it off, and...wait for it...John Fox's laudably aggressive decision-making against the Patriots was not the reason they failed.

Honestly, it's pretty hard to go 0-2 at two-point attempts. But that Panthers team didn't have a very good offense.

Everyone, Fox included, must know that the 2013 Broncos are everything those 2003 Panthers were not. 

They scored the most points in NFL history, their point differential led the league, and they only exceeded their expected W-L by one (13-3 compared to 11.7-4.3).

Manning, in the greatest season by any QB in history, had 56 touchdowns, countered by only 10 interceptions and 10 fumbles. And of course, that's all while attempting 210 more passes than did Delhomme a decade earlier.

Again, we hope it doesn't come down to this, but would you rather Sunday's outcome be determined by the mind and right arm of Peyton Manning, or to the chance that Denver's defense gets a big stop or takeaway when they absolutely need it?

A few weeks ago, we were told that Manning's late third-down conversions to Julius Thomas were proof that Fox had learned his lesson from a year earlier - that letting Peyton do his thing is preferable to running the ball and worrying about an opponent's timeouts.

I'm not sure I buy that, given the three fruitless first- and second-down runs (by Knowshon Moreno, for -2, 3, and 1 yard) that preceded Manning's two gutsy throws.

But hey, at least Fox (or is this the upgrade from Mike McCoy to Adam Gase?) didn't have Peyton hand it off on 3rd-and-17 or 3rd-and-6. So we'll give him that.

In closing, if you will, a plea to Denver's coach:

Foxy, you may want a mulligan for that SB 38 decision, but you don't need one. Your players failed to execute, given three opportunities on two-point attempts: two of your own, and one of New England's. Had your players converted one of those two tries, or stopped the Pats', you might already have a SB ring. It wasn't your fault.

Please, forget SB 38, and don't treat that one-game sample as proof of anything.

Let it go.

Perhaps you're still haunted by the ghosts of Jake Delhomme and Tim Tebow.

I know, like you know, that each of your first four trips to the playoffs ended with your quarterback unable to complete more than 50% of his pass attempts.

In your fifth trip, you chose to take the ball out from the hands of perhaps the greatest quarterback who's ever lived.

Please, for the love of Elway, do not make that same mistake again. Given the choice, go for it.

After all, you have Peyton Mother F#$%ing Manning as your quarterback.

Doug is IAOFM’s resident newsman and spelling czar. Follow him on Twitter @IAOFM