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With Time To Reflect, Frank Reich Explains Overtime Decision

Indianapolis Colts head coach Frank Reich on Monday dove deeper into the rationale behind going for it on 4th down in his own territory late in overtime of Sunday’s eventual loss to the Houston Texans.

Indianapolis Colts head coach Frank Reich watches during the first half of an NFL football game against the Houston Texans, Sunday, Sept. 30, 2018, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/AJ Mast)
Indianapolis Colts head coach Frank Reich watches during the first half of an NFL football game against the Houston Texans, Sunday, Sept. 30, 2018, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/AJ Mast)

INDIANAPOLIS — Frank Reich and the Indianapolis Colts on Monday had already moved past Sunday's last-second overtime loss to the Houston Texans.

With a Thursday night game on the road against the defending AFC champion New England Patriots looming in just three days, that's the only approach the Colts could take.

But that doesn't mean Reich wasn't going to be asked by reporters, once again, about his decision late in overtime of that Texans game — one that, after failing to convert on fourth down eventually led to Houston getting the ball back in Indianapolis territory with enough time to get a first down, spike the ball and hit a game-winning field goal.

With time to properly digest that decision, however, Reich said Monday he still believes it was the right call. Immediately after the game, he said he'd go for that on fourth down in that scenario "10 out of 10 times," and while he backed away from that claim on Monday, if only slightly, he still harped on the importance of being aggressive in situations like that.

"It's probably not a complete absolute as much as it is a mindset of being aggressive," Reich said Monday. "There are always a lot of things to consider. To say it's an absolute, it was emotional yesterday, a tough loss. The mindset is we're going to be aggressive, OK? That's probably more – a better perspective for me to put it into context that way."

Sunday's game against the AFC South Division rival Texans was already a roller coaster of emotions before that sequence at the end of overtime. The Colts' offense was shut down after scoring a touchdown on its opening drive of the game, and Indy found itself down 18, 28-10, with less than seven minutes remaining in the third quarter.

But that's when Andrew Luck started working some of his magic. With the defense continuing to play solid, the Colts' offense would begin to string together some more scoring drives, and a touchdown pass to running back Nyheim Hines, and subsequent pass to Chester Rogers to earn the two-point conversion, finally tied the game at 31 and forced overtime.

The Colts won the coin toss to start overtime and got the ball out of the gates, and would get a 44-yard Adam Vinatieri field goal. The Texans answered with a 29-yard field goal out of Ka'imi Fairbairn.

Now the next score won the game — or the two teams would tie if the clock reached 0:00. The Colts got the ball back with 1:50 left and got as far as their own 47-yard line, but a holding penalty pushed them all the way back to the 26. A 17-yard pass play on 3rd and 21 set up the aforementioned gamble by Reich.

With 27 seconds left, the Colts faced a 4th and 4 from their own 43. Houston had taken their final timeout after seeing how the Colts originally lined up on the play, and then Indianapolis followed up with a timeout after they couldn't draw the Texans' defense offsides and get a first down the easy way.

Reich talked it over with Luck, and decided to keep the offense on the field to try to convert the first down and then quickly find a way to get into position for a game-winning field goal for Vinatieri.

But on that fourth down play, a quick pass from Luck towards Rogers hit the turf. Turnover on downs. 

The Texans quickly got a 24-yard completion from Deshaun Watson to DeAndre Hopkins, spiked the ball with three seconds left, and then brought on Fairbairn, who connected on a game-winning 37-yard field goal as time expired.

Reich on Monday went into his exact thought process on that fourth down call:

"I realize it was a pretty aggressive call, obviously thought a lot about it in the last 24 hours and still feel really good about the decision. I know, I understand the other side of that decision and I am not saying that that's not fair, but in my mind, right now we are the best team in the NFL on third down. We are really good at converting those, so that's number one. Our quarterback was on fire, that's number two. Our offense was on fire, I didn't feel like they could stop us, so that was a big factor. If we convert it, I'm going to have to use a timeout and we are going to be on the minus-49 with 23 seconds to go and no timeouts. I just saw Vinny (Adam Vinatieri) make a 65-yarder in practice with room to spare. So in my mind we only need 10 more yards and we have 23 seconds. I got all kinds of options. I can throw it over the middle and clock it. They're probably going to play man coverage, they're probably not going to play zone. So we can probably still have sideline throws available to us and take it at five-yard chunks. If they cover the sideline, we can take a 10-yard chunk and clock it. I really felt positive about all those options. So it was a bit risky and it was a bit aggressive, but I think it was the right call. I feel good about it. Just didn't feel good about the execution."

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