Here’s why ‘Philly Special’ gave Eagles better chance to win than kicking a FG

“Don’t be afraid to fail. … Failure is a part of life. Without failure who would you be?”

That was Super Bowl MVP Nick Foles, early Monday morning, hours after he led the Eagles to their first Lombardi Trophy. But Foles could have just as easily been talking about the biggest play of Super Bowl LII. With 38 seconds left in the first half and the Eagles facing a 4th and goal from the Patriots‘ 2-yard line, coach Doug Pederson not only decided to go for it, he called a play that ended with Foles catching a touchdown pass.

“Don’t be afraid to fail.”

Pederson never thought about kicking that field goal, and he later told TheMMQB.com’s Peter King why he settled on the play known asPhilly Special.”

“We had a couple of options at that point, but then my eyes just kind of hit that play,” he explained. “I was thinking, ‘We keep talking about that play, and calling it in the second half of the game … but are we going to be in a situation like this, to put us up by two scores? There are certain plays that you spend time doing them, repping them, and you have no doubt they are going to work. Without a shadow of a doubt you know. I knew.”

Pederson’s aggressiveness paid off but here’s the thing: The laws of probability said going for it on 4th down was the right decision. Details via ESPN.com stats guy Brian Burke:

“ESPN’s Win Probability (WP) model liked that 4th down decision on the goal line by the Eagles. In total it was a +3.4 percent WP decision. WP for a FG attempt would be 69.3 percent, while the WP for going for the touchdown was 72.7 percent. Philadelphia needed a 41 percent chance of success to make it worth the risk, and the league average there is 57 percent.”

While the win probability model can make predictions about the outcome based on field position, score, and time remaining, there’s no way it could account for that play call. The Eagles pulled it off, so they have a 100 percent success rate but in retrospect, it was probably closer to 50/50. Still, that’s better than the “41 percent chance to make it worth the risk.”

Also noteworthy: Tight end Trey Burton threw that pass to Foles and it was Burton’s first touchdown pass since high school. He went 11 of 17 in college with the Florida Gators but none found their way into the end zone.

As for the receiver, Foles hadn’t been thrown a pass since 2009, when he was at the University of Arizona. Just like Sunday night, Foles caught it. Unlike Sunday night, the completion went for a nine-yard loss.

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