Of all the sayings in football, “punts are just tasteful turnovers” is one of my favorites. I might be paraphrasing that a little bit, but the sentiment is clear.
The Bengals actually turned the ball over three times yesterday against the Seahawks (four if you count a failed fourth down conversion) in their 21-20 loss. Considering they had nearly twice as many yards on offense as the Seahawks had, this may’ve been the equalizer that cost them the win.
210 seconds before the final whistle, the Bengals essentially turned over the ball one last time, but in a tasteful fashion.
Facing a fourth-and-seven at their own 44-yard line with 3:30 left in the fourth quarter, head coach Zac Taylor opted to punt the ball away to the Seahawks. The drive had lasted just five plays beforehand and went for just 15 yards for one first down and Taylor had all three timeouts at his disposal. With a solid punt from Kevin Huber, there was a chance for the Bengals to get a stop and the ball back with enough time to try for a game-winning field goal.
Those dreams went up in flames after Chris Carson broke off a 21-yard run on a third-and-one from the ensuing Seahawks drive. The run essentially sealed the victory for the home team, as the Bengals only had 21 seconds to reach field goal range 40 yards away with no timeouts left once they got the ball back. The numbers would tell you the Bengals lost as soon as the ball left huber’s foot.
The Surrender Index is a formula, created by SB Nation’s own Jon Bois, that essentially tells us how cowardly any decision to punt the ball away is. The formula inputs all critical information regarding a punt (field position, first down distance, score of game and time) with each piece of information given specific weights to it, resulting in values that could be less than 1 or over 100. The higher the final value, the more cowardly the punt was.
(For more information, check out Bois’ video in search of the saddest punt from the 21st century.)
Cincinnati’s decision to punt with under four minutes left in the game scored pretty damn high in the eyes of the Surrender Index.
CIN decided to punt to SEA from the CIN 44 on 4th & 7 with 3:30 remaining in the 4th while losing 20 to 21.— Surrender Index 90 (@surrender_idx90) September 8, 2019
With a Surrender Index of 11.76, this punt ranks at the 95th percentile of cowardly punts of the 2019 season, and the 94th percentile of all punts since 2009.
Let’s try to break this down variable by variable.
Once you can essentially touch the opposing team’s midfield logo, you’ve reached an appropriate spot to go for it. If you fail to convert, the opposition still needs to move the ball a little bit to get inside field goal range. The 44-yard line is just inside the part of the field where the Surrender Index starts increasing the multiplier for this variable (1.46 to be exact).
First Down Distance
This is where the Bengals get some leniency. Seven yards applies a 60% discount to the final score, as it is just barely far enough away from the line to gain to be considered a “long” distance. Fourth-and-seven is technically fourth-and-long by our own standards.
Score of Game
Enough of the discounts, one point is the smallest deficit possible, and losing by one possession creates a 4X multiplier for the Surrender Index. The score reaches closer and closer to cowardly status.
With 210 seconds left in the game, there had been 1590 seconds since halftime, which really drives up the score based off Bois’ formula.
Inputting all of that data, I got a value of 11.72. Though my final result didn’t quite match the value tweeted out, the conclusion is the same: the Bengals were pretty cowardly in punting the ball away compared to the average 21st century punt.
Head coach Zac Taylor doesn’t see it that way.
Asked ZT about it: "You just put faith in your defense to get a stop there. It's hard. They got it. I think if it's a little bit shorter you really consider it, but fourth and six you concede the game if you throw an incompletion right there ... think it was the right decision." https://t.co/imtmaV8r1G— Paul Dehner Jr. (@pauldehnerjr) September 9, 2019
Taylor’s reasoning is fine because he made sure to highlight the distance to gain as the reasoning against it. If it was fourth-and-six or less, the Surrender Index would’ve spat out a number much higher, making the decision much more cowardly. And in all honesty, most teams wouldn’t have gone for a fourth-and-long inside on their own side of the field this early in the year.
This wasn’t the only time Taylor had a crucial fourth-down decision to make. A quarter earlier, Giovani Bernard was stuffed on a fourth-and-one at the Seahawks’ own 36-yard line. Four plays later, the Seahawks took the lead thanks to a 44-yard Tyler Lockett touchdown from Russell Wilson.
Did that previous failure influence Taylor’s decision in the fourth quarter? We don’t know. But hopefully this is the last time we’re discussing a punt in the 90th percentile of cowardice after a loss this season.