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Gerald McCoy’s misguided comments on his fourth quarter plays

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Plays matter from the start to the finish of a game, not just late in close performances.

Chicago Bears v Tampa Bay Buccaneers Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Gerald McCoy is a weirdly polarizing figure for Tampa Bay Buccaneers fans. He shouldn’t be: he’s a really good football player who’s been stuck on bad teams. This happens a lot in the NFL, and fans then turn on the elements of continuity—which are inevitably their best players, because everyone else doesn’t stick around.

It seems McCoy has needlessly internalized some of this criticism, though. In today’s press conference, he repeatedly emphasized that he needs to do better, that he talked to folks he respects about where he needs to improve, about his desire to make an impact in the fourth quarter.

Pewter Report has all of the quotes (there are many, many quotes), but this more or less sums it up.

“Going into my eighth year I’ve never been to the playoffs. I’m not one to point fingers and I’m not one to make excuses. I’m one to go look at all my fourth quarters from the past two years. The great ones make the plays in the fourth quarter. The great ones make those big shots. The great ones make the plays when it’s necessary.

This kind of stuff is great for motivation, I guess, but analytically it is nonsense. Games are not won and lost in the fourth quarter alone, they are won and lost throughout a game. If you play terrible football in the first quarter, you’re badly hurting your chances of winning a game. You can’t just turn it on in the fourth: you need to be on throughout.

And, quite frankly, McCoy has been turning it on in the fourth quarter. Consistently. As Thomas Bassinger points out here:

Bassinger also figured out that Sapp had 33% of his sacks in the fourth quarter, so we’re not talking about a huge difference here. According to Greg Auman, McCoy was trying to be even more specific.

This is the notion that he hasn’t really decided any games ‘when it matters’. But that’s a silly focus: sacks are very rare for defensive tackles (McCoy has never had more than 10 in a season, and there are extremely few defensive tackle who get that many consistently), so if you’re only going to look at a small percentage of your playing time, of course you’re not going to find many sacks.

All of that misses another point, though: this focus on when you’re making plays is entirely misguided. Plays matter throughout a game. Plays matter when they’re made five seconds into a game, and they matter when they’re made in the fourth quarter. They’re actually more likely to matter at the start of a game, because you’re guaranteed to still have a chance of impacting the chance of winning—the same is not true for many fourth quarter plays.

This focus on fourth-quarter heroics is natural as a fan and observer, because we love comeback stories, we love big moments and huge plays in crunch time. Those get the adrenaline flowing and make for tense moments.

But successful teams build successful seasons not on close plays in the fourth quarter, but on blowout victories that start in the first. On consistently strong performances that leave opponents with no real opportunities to win.

Every team loses some close fourth quarter games. Every team wins some. There is no evidence that teams can consistently win close games, no matter how hard they try, no matter how hard they focus on crunch time.

The best way to win games is just to play good football, start to finish. That’s what the Bucs should be focusing, and that’s what we as fans should focus on if we want to analyze what’s actually happening.