The San Francisco 49ers improved to 3-6 on Sunday, holding off the Atlanta Falcons by a final score of 17-16. The 49ers looked like they win in fairly decisive fashion, jumping on top 17-6 late in the second quarter. However, the Falcons quickly got back into it with a 1:03 scoring drive late in the quarter. The 49ers were scoreless in the second half, but their defense did a strong job slowing down the Falcons offense.
The 49ers did benefit in a big way late in the game by a curious decision from Falcons head coach Dan Quinn. The Falcons had the ball and had driven to the 49ers one-yard line. A three-yard run set them up with a 4th and goal with 2:56 left in the game, down 17-13. The Falcons elected to kick a field goal, and that was that. They had two timeouts left, and were unable to prevent the 49ers offense from a pair of first down conversions, and that was the game.
I remain baffled by the decision, and even the numbers back it up. ESPN's Brian Burke (formerly proprietor of Advanced Football Analytics) breaks down win probability, and he broke down the numbers surrounding the field goal decision. By kicking the field goal, the Falcons win probability dropped from 48.6 percent to 27 percent. Conversions from the one-yard line are successful approximately 55 percent of the time.
Had the Falcons been stopped on 4th and goal, they still would have set up the 49ers at their own one-yard line. Maybe the 49ers offense would have still finished this game off, but if I was the Falcons, I would have been happy to put this on Blaine Gabbert and Shaun Draughn. Instead, the Falcons kick the field goal, and it cost them.