Calculated risks

ROB LONGLEY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:21 AM ET

In back-to-back weeks, Dick Vermeil then Jon Gruden were everything but bronzed by casual fans and pundits alike for their coaching genius.

Of course in the impatient world of NFL fandom, had game-winning, goal-line plunges failed, each would have been seen as potential season-killing galoots.

First a recap of the two brazen plays in the dying seconds of their respective games. In Kansas City nine days ago, Vermeil opted to go for it on fourth and one when a field goal would have forced overtime against the Raiders.

Sunday in Tampa Bay, Bucs coach Gruden did the same thing, but with a twist. After the Washington Redskins were flagged for an offside on an extra point that would have tied the game, he went for a two-point conversion and the win.

So is this start of a trend? Until there is a colossal screw up in a similar situation, maybe so.

Despite the high stakes of such gambles, there is some logic to support the position.

In each of the above cases, the coach weighed the odds and the math computed. Asking an offensive lineman and a power running back to pick up a yard and change seemed like a better bet than winning a coin toss for possession to start overtime.

For the Chiefs, losing the toss would have had them one medium Randy Moss catch and a long Sebastien Janikowski field goal away from a loss to the Raiders.

For the Bucs, even though quarterback Chris Simms had moved the ball efficiently all day, handing the ball to big Mike Alstott was far surer thing.

For fans anyway, such conclusions are on par with the NHL shootout on the excitement meter. Playing to win always beats playing not to lose.

FOURTH AND HUH?

Not all coaches have grasped the risk-reward component of going for it on fourth down.

It got lost somewhat in the Bills' 14-3 win over the Chiefs, but a bizarre gamble could have been far more costly than it was for Buffalo coach Mike Mularkey.

On fourth and inches from their own 46, quarterback Kelly Holcomb tried to fake a sneak with the plan of tossing to Willis McGahee. Just one problem, the defence sniffed it out and sacked Holcomb for a seven-yard loss.

Even with the gift of great field position, the Chiefs weren't able to put points on the board and Mularkey was off the hook. A Bills loss and that wouldn't have been the case.

WHO'S THE MAN?

Unless he's playing games, and Mularkey has done that before, why is the Bills coach reluctant to give the ball back to J.P. Losman?

Before he suffered his concussion on Sunday, Holcomb looked decidedly average. After the concussion, Losman looked decidedly like a quarterback with a future.

Who gives the team the better chance to win now? It's at least a draw. And if that's the case, tie goes to the first-round draft pick.

BALANCE OF POWER

Further evidence that the NFC is the weak sister in the NFL: Home losses by the Giants and Falcons to the Vikings and Packers, respectively.

Both were favoured by more than a touchdown and both failed miserably.

Realistically there are five teams in the AFC -- Indianapolis, Pittsburgh, Denver, Cincinnati and San Diego --that you would rank ahead of any NFC team save for, perhaps, Seattle and Carolina.

No wonder that in some Vegas casinos a Super Bowl line is posted that has the AFC favoured by 8 1/2 points.


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