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John Harbaugh defends statistically sound decision to go for touchdown on fourth-and-1

There are a number of things the Ravens would have done differently in Sunday's 27-23 loss to the New York Giants at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J. Attempting a field goal on fourth-and-goal from the 1-yard line instead of going for a touchdown is not one of them.

Coach John Harbaugh defended his call to have the offense go for it on the first play of the fourth quarter with the team trailing, 17-13. Although running back Terrance West (Northwestern High, Towson University) was stopped for a 1-yard loss, Harbaugh said he had no regrets about the decision.

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"All the numbers will tell you you've got to go for that," he said Monday. "If you want to talk about the analytics and the numbers and all that, I'm not sitting here saying that's what we live and die by, but it's the call you make. Because you back them up, you pin them down, the chances of getting at least three coming back are really good, and your chances of getting more than that are good as well. You expect to score from the one-half yard line in four tries."

The numbers seem to bear out Harbaugh's argument. According to an article written in 2014 by an analyst for a fantasy sports analytics platform called numberFire.com, teams on the 1-yard line since 2000 have run the ball almost 74 percent of the time and have succeeded on those runs 53.9 percent of the time.

Mathematically, a 53.9 percent chance at seven points (assuming a successful extra point) is greater than even a 100 percent chance at three points.

Additionally, as Harbaugh mentioned, the Ravens made up those three points on their next offensive possession, thanks in part to decent field position that stemmed from the decision to go for it. With their backs against the goal line, the Giants got one first down but still had to punt from their own 20-yard line. The Ravens began their next possession at their own 27-yard line.

Simulating what would have happened if the Ravens made a different decision is imprecise. Sending Justin Tucker to attempt an 18-yard field goal and close the gap to one point might have changed the final outcome, but Harbaugh made no apologies for taking an aggressive approach.

"You're fourth down on the half-yard line; most of the time we're going to give our guys a chance to make that play," he said. "We're not into throwing up the white flag there. Should we have, based on the fact we didn't get the job done? That's what ticks me off. We can't score from the half-yard line with our offense? Are you kidding me? That's what ticks me off. Yeah, if I have to throw up the white flag because our offense can't score from a foot-and-a-half out, if that's the coach you want, if that's what we've got to do, we'll do it. I'm going to coach this team to score from the half-yard line. That's the way we're going to do it."

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