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Frank Reich Has No Regrets Going For 4th Down In First Meeting With Texans

Did Frank Reich make the right decision in playing for the win during their Week Four loss to the Texans? A look back on a big move in 2018, with the Colts and Texans meeting again this season.

Andy Lyons | Getty Images

INDIANAPOLIS – At the time, the decision did not look like one that was going to matter in the 2018 playoff scope.

Frank Reich’s move to play for the win in a Week Four overtime meeting with the Houston Texans was looked at as a head coach being a man of his word, reminding his players that all of the off-season chatter about being aggressive was not just talk.

The decision to try and go for the win, going for a 4th-and-4 from the Indy 43-yard-line with 27 seconds to play in Week Four, ended in disaster.

An incomplete pass from Andrew Luck, was followed by a quick 24-yard completion between Deshaun Watson and DeAndre Hopkins. Watson then corralled his offense for a final spike with 3 seconds to go. Kicker Ka’imi Fairbairn capped things by knocking home a 37-yard game-winning field goal at the buzzer for the 37-34 victory.

When the Colts and Texans entered overtime in Week Four at Lucas Oil Stadium, no one could have expected that decision to truly impact the AFC South landscape when their second meeting arrived in December.

But it has.

The Texans have set an NFL-record with 9 straight wins, after an 0-3 start, since that season-saving victory at Lucas Oil Stadium.

As Houston players have said this week, ‘That was all we needed,’ in turning their season around like no other.

The Colts have rebounded from a poor start to their own season.

It’s impossible to say how settling for a tie that afternoon would have changed the next few months for both teams.

In looking back on that gamble by Reich, the play call and how the head coach went amount the gutsy move is where questions should reside.

With Jack Doyle and T.Y. Hilton injured and off the field, the Colts needed to be particularly creative with that critical play call. Instead, they relied on a simple drop back by Andrew Luck, throwing a comeback route to Chester Rogers. The ball from Luck, who threw for 464 yards and 4 touchdowns that afternoon, never had a chance.

The issues of the play call?

-You were banking on Chester Rogers winning against man coverage. This is a guy who wasn’t even on the field when the Colts opened up with their first three-receiver set back in Week Four.

-Instead of trying a rub route in space, or even rolling Andrew Luck out to allow him to possibly make a play with his feet, if things broke down, it was either Rogers or bust. And the Colts busted when Luck, who was tremendous for so long that day, threw one of his worst balls of the game at the feet of Rogers. We always hear the old saying of ‘players, not plays.’ Reich said that route by Rogers was a ‘go-to’ route for T.Y. Hilton. But Hilton wasn’t on the field there. That’s why I go back to the rub route/Luck rolling out and creating some options (I'm thinking back to the Detroit game in 2012). Yes, the pass catching choices were bleak at that point of the Houston game (Hilton was hurt and Doyle was inactive). Couldn’t Ryan Grant though, a more trustworthy option at the time have been the primary receiver, instead of the inconsistent Rogers? Or how about Nyheim Hines on a linebacker, like the game-tying touchdown at the end of regulation? Could Eric Ebron’s big body have been used?

-And what about going for the 4th down right away, especially after the Texans took a timeout to conserve time following their third-down stop, thinking the Colts were going to punt it. This was Reich’s biggest second-guessing of himself after the loss. He knows he probably should have gone for the 4th down immediately, instead of trying to draw the Texans offsides and then taking another timeout. The Texans were initially passive pre-snap, thinking the Colts were only out there just to try and draw them offsides via a Luck cadence. The Houston defense looked gassed and even confused on several occasions late in the game. Had Reich gone for it right away, maybe Houston wouldn’t have been as ready to pounce on the short route (and Luck makes a better throw).

About a month after the scrutinized decision, Reich addressed his thoughts with Houston moving towards the top of the division.

“My mind doesn’t think like that,” Reich said in late October when asked about his decision from a month before. “What I have learned as a quarterback in this league and as a coach in this league for the 30-some years, when you are on the side of the field that we are on in those moments you have to be confident and trust your instincts. And you are going to win some and you are going to lose some, but the one thing you can’t ever do is you can’t ever second-guess yourself. You can live and learn and learn from your mistakes, but I don’t look back at that with regrets.

“I made a decision at that time that I thought was the right decision to win the game and it didn’t work out. But also that same attitude I think is reflective of a lot of other decisions that maybe aren’t so prominent that have a positive impact on what we are doing and that’s what we want throughout the team.”

Those comments were a month after Reich’s immediate reaction following the emotional overtime loss.

“We are not playing to tie,” Reich said at his post-game press conference after the Sept. 30 loss to Houston. “We are going for that 10 times out of 10. That’s who we are going to be as a team. That’s the mindset that we have in our guys. That’s the only way to win in this league, I think. That’s what I’m going to do. The only second guessing was just (not going with it right away), without talking it through (after taking a timeout). Is this the right play? I felt that was going to be the right play. Just wanted to make sure and that was probably my mistake.”

Players, as you would expect, loved Reich’s decision.

At that point of the game, Reich ‘thought (Luck) could do no wrong,’ which certainly played into his decision.

What people need to also remember from that game: a mis-judged snap from Ryan Kelly and a strip sack of Andrew Luck gifted the then winless Texans 14 first-half points.

But, like we always do in sports, the focus often is on the end-of-game decisions.

The overtime move was one that would come with scrutiny.

Did it hurt the Colts’ potential for making the playoffs in 2018?

From a pure win/loss/tie standpoint, it did.

From knowing how the season would have unfolded had the Colts been 1-2-1 versus 1-3, it’s impossible to judge.

A rematch with the Texans awaits on Sunday and if Reich wants people to really move on from that decision a win needs to occur.

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