Gregg Easterbrook's Tuesday Morning Quarterback has returned with the start of the NFL season (link via Offwing Opinion). Among the many interesting observations in the column is this:
Sour Play of the Week
With Jacksonville facing fourth-and-14 from its own 34 with 1:18 remaining and trailing by four, the Jags sent their best receiver, Jimmy Smith, deep along the sideline. The clock is almost spent, the opponent is in desperation mode, where oh where might the pass go? Maybe up the field! Yet Smith was single-covered on the fly pattern while two Bills DBs stood in the center of the gridiron like sculptures, apparently guarding each other. Forty-five yard completion when corner Nate Clements absurdly went for the interception -- gotta get my stats! -- rather than knock the ball down and ending the game. Clements caught the pass, then Smith wrestled it away. The stage was set for Jacksonville's improbable final-play victory.
High school players are taught that on fourth down, you never try to intercept, just knock the pass to the ground. Midway in a game, a fourth-down knockdown usually results in better field position than an interception. In the waning seconds, a fourth-down knockdown wins the game. The Official Oldest Child of TMQ, Grant, plays junior varsity football for Churchill High School in Montgomery County, Md., and TMQ reserves the right to boast about this program as may be appropriate. I called out, "Hey Grant, it's fourth down for the other team, you're in pass defense and the ball is coming directly toward you, what should you do?" Without hesitation, he replied, "Knock it down!" Here, Clements admits to Scott Pitoniak of the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle that he tried to intercept. There is huge monetary pressure on corners to get INTs -- Clements is coming up on his contract year and each interception he records will add large sums of money to whatever deal he is offered. Last December, Clements' name received Pro Bowl consideration. If he receives Pro Bowl consideration again this December, voters should bear in mind that Clements placed his own stats over victory for his team.
Could someone demonstrate that the frequency of "good plays made" matters more than "high profile stats" accumulated by a player? It wouldn't be cheap, but its possible.
A cogent explanation for why players go for the "stat play" as opposed to the right play would be a welcome bit of economic analysis. I think, as does Easterbrook (I presume), that such behavior often occurs in sports. What is the source of this apparent market failure?