Indianapolis Colts coach Frank Reich defended his playcalling in a 27-24 wild-card loss to the Bills on Saturday, including a costly fourth-down decision that ultimately turned the game in Buffalo’s favor.
With his team leading 10-7 late in the first half and facing fourth-and-goal from the 4-yard line, Reich elected to keep his offense on the field to try to deliver a big blow to the favored Bills instead of attempting a field goal for a possible 13-7 lead.
As it happened, Colts quarterback Philip Rivers‘ throw was just out reach for rookie receiver Michael Pittman Jr. in the corner of the end zone, and the Bills took advantage of the failed conversion to run off 17 straight points for a 24-10 lead.
“[It was a] strong go,” Reich said of the decision to go for it on fourth down, citing the analytics he and his staff frequently rely on when making such calls.
The Colts were successful on fourth down during the regular season. They were 15-of-20 on fourth down with fewer than 5 yards to go. Their 15 converted attempts were second in the NFL behind only the Las Vegas Raiders.
Reich felt comfortable going for it because he didn’t believe the Bills would aggressively try to move the ball down the field, because it was late in the first half and given where they had the ball.
“If you don’t make it, they’re backed up, they’re likely going to be conservative and you have a chance to get it back,” Reich said.
Buffalo responded with a 10-play, 96-yard drive capped by quarterback Josh Allen‘s 5-yard keeper with 14 seconds left in the half to go up 14-10.
In the second half, Reich and the Colts surprisingly went for two after scoring a touchdown that would have cut Buffalo’s lead to seven, 24-17, in the second half. Running back Jonathan Taylor was stuffed up the middle on the play.
“I called our best run down there, it didn’t convert,” Reich said. “No gimmies in this league.”
Reich also said he regretted rushing to challenge a play on which he thought Bills running back Zack Moss fumbled early in the fourth quarter. The decision left the Colts with only one timeout the rest of the game. Reich had time before challenging the play because the cart was brought on the field to take the injured Moss off the field.
“That was bad on my part,” Reich said. “I should have waited, there was no hurry to challenge that. What we initially saw — people on the sideline and in communication with — thought it was out. Everyone thought it was out.”
The Colts are the first team in playoff history to lose a game while gaining at least 450 yards with no turnovers, according to Elias Sports Bureau research. Prior to Saturday, such teams were 11-0.
The Colts gained a season-high 472 yards and were only 2-of-5 in the red zone.
“Very hard to stomach,” Reich said. “You get in playoffs and have a good team and you can do it. I know we have a team to go all the way. We gave ourselves chances but didn’t get it done. Red zone hurt us.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.