The term “13 Seconds” has already reached the point where me capitalizing that “S” makes complete sense to fans of the NFL. And for fans of the Buffalo Bills specifically, perhaps it makes more sense to use Caps Lock and like, seven exclamation points. I won’t even give much of an explanation on this one. We all have our thoughts on what should have happened. I’m going to focus on the kickoff and what I wanted to see. To make it seem like legitimate analysis rather than cathartic whining, I’ll toss in some All-22 and stats.
We don’t know where to point the finger
Before we begin, I’m not going to be pointing any fingers. Let’s assume it’s because I’m too nice of a guy and not this quote from head coach Sean McDermott about the kickoff that’s muddying the waters: “We didn’t execute....disappointing because we pride ourselves in detail. We work tirelessly on it.”
Is he suggesting Tyler Bass didn’t do what he was asked to do? Did Heath Farwell space out and ask for the wrong thing? Was it McDermott himself who made a bad call? Did an analytics nerd like myself botch the data? The world may never know.
The Kick in Question
Yeah, I’m gonna make you watch it again. Here it is.
Not much to analyze here. I just wanted to point out it was Byron Pringle set to return and that it was a preeeetty deep kick. Yes the defense should have held but it could have been easy to help them out by taking more time off the clock than zero.
One of the first things I did to try to rationalize a touchback was to tell myself “I don’t know Jack about Byron Pringle. Maybe he’s a really good returner and the Bills were playing it smart.” Honestly, I might change my tune if, for instance, the Bills were kicking to peak Andre Roberts, or Terrence McGee circa 2005.
So how good is Pringle? Among qualifying players, he’s fifth-best in the league. Sounds great, right? It’s not. He’s half-a-yard-per-return better than Isaiah McKenzie. I like McKenzie and think he does a good job, but he’s not good enough to stop me from making him return it and burn some time.
Fifth best? What’s that mean exactly? Pringle averaged 24.8 yards per return this year. In other words, if you kicked the ball to the one-yard line, forcing a return they’d likely get the ball at the 26 to start. It miiiiiiiiight have looked something like this:
Yep. The first kickoff of the day was short. It was returned by Byron Pringle from the zero to the 26. The Bills didn’t have any reason to think he was particularly dangerous. Oddly, this was the only time the Bills didn’t create a touchback. Anyone who has followed me for a long time knows my cardinal rule for returners. DON’T. RETURN. KICKS. UNLESS. YOU. HAVE. TO! That means the reverse is true for the kicking team. ALWAYS. MAKE. THEM. RETURN. IT!
Consider these other facts as well. Pringle’s long return this season was 39 yards. There were nine TD returns this year. On 1,101 returns.
How much time are we talking?
I took the same Pringle return from above and focused on the clock. It starts when he touches the ball and ends when the refs declare dead ball. Also, you...may not...want...to...watch this...
That’s seven seconds off the clock. That likely changes things.
I want to be clear there’s no guarantee that doing what I would have preferred (a kickoff like the first one) would have been successful. The bounce kick they tried at the beginning of the game Byron Pringle may have seen would bounce into the end zone anyway and let it roll by. It’s even possible he would have been instructed to do that. On the other hand, bounces are risky. If he doesn’t field it and it stays put he’d either need to scoop it up or risk allowing Buffalo to field it and seal the win.
Even if it only appeared like it might stay out of the end zone, Pringle may have needed to take it. Any indecision also allows the Bills to storm further down the field, pushing KC back.
Further, there’s a chance Pringle would have tried to preserve some time by giving himself up. The success of that would depend on a number of factors. But consider this; a booming kick that landed at about the five with the potential to bounce up (and back to Buffalo) could be fair caught to conserve time. The distance to field goal range goes way up. Pringle could also advance the ball and slide. That seven-second burn could be less in that case.
So, ultimately, there’s no perfect way to predict how much it would have helped Buffalo, or if it would have helped at all. There was a decent chance it would have helped SOME though, and very little risk. The touchback was the only way to guarantee a specific outcome. Thirteen seconds with three timeouts left was not the best possible outcome.