In his press conference on Friday, Buffalo Bills head coach Doug Marrone said the following about his decision to punt on 4th and 6 from the Miami Dolphins' 47-yard line trailing in the fourth quarter of Thursday Night Football (you can read his full quotes here):
"I'm managing the game where I give our players the opportunity to win, where I don't make decisions to take the game away from the players on that 4th and 6."
Then, on a follow-up question about the math saying it is correct to go for it, Marrone said:
"The environment within those statistics, even though that they may show that you can do that, the environment within those statistics is not the same. Now if you were to pull, if someone told me they pulled all of the critical plays on fourth down and then had a percentage of that, I think then you can look at it."
Ask and ye shall receive, Coach Marrone. It's all at Pro Football Reference.
The following data comes from 2004 to 2014. It accounts for regular season games, both passes and runs, from the start of the fourth quarter to the two-minute warning (so no garbage time), between the 40s, on fourth down, with between 5-10 yards to go, and the offensive team is trailing at most by two scores (14 points). It's a pretty similar situation to yesterday's game.
There were 88 plays where the above criteria was met. The fourth down plays resulted in 39 first downs, for a 44.3 percent success rate.
Marrone and the Bills had a slightly less than 50 percent chance of keeping the ball and continuing their drive (and potentially then cutting the lead to one score). In the Bills' instance it would have put them at the very edge of Dan Carpenter's field goal range, by just getting the first down. Or, you can punt, at the very best lose 1-2 minutes off the clock, and get the ball back about where you just had it. That is the best case scenario! If the opposing team gets a first down or two, the game is pretty much unwinnable barring a miracle because of time remaining and the two-score deficit.
I welcome any and all comments, but to me the proof is in the pudding: Marrone is wrong. Buffalo should have gone for it on fourth down in the fourth quarter.