Shanahan's Call: Cocky or Compromise?

Austin PennyAnalyst ISeptember 15, 2008

Denver Broncos' head coach Mike Shanahan made a call Sunday in the waning seconds of his team's match-up with AFC West rival San Diego that had the potential to make or break the Broncos' season.

With 1:17 remaining in the fourth quarter and the Broncos trailing the Chargers 31-38, Broncos quarterback Jay Cutler took the snap on second down from the Chargers' 1-yard line and rolled out to the right looking for an open receiver to thread the ball to.  Cutler reared back to throw the ball, but it slipped from his grip before he ever moved it behind his head, a clear fumble.  The Chargers defense scooped up the ball and took off the other way, only stopping when they heard the whistles going nuts behind them.

Referee Ed Hochuli, widely regarded as one of the best in the league, ruled the play an incomplete pass.  He was behind Cutler at the time, and could not see exactly what happened, but was closest to the action nonetheless.  The booth obviously reviewed the play, and that's where things get tricky.

Hochuli went to the replay booth, and after several different angles, came to the microphone with a distinct explanation.  He admitted that he blew the call.  He told the crowd (luckily they were in Denver) and the entire Chargers coaching staff that he had made a bum call, and there was nothing he could do about it because he had blown the whistle, thus declaring the ball dead. 

The ball was placed at the 10-yard line, where the ball hit and was declared dead, and the Broncos maintained possession.  Two plays later, Cutler delivered the ball to surprising rookie Eddie Royal for a 4-yard touchdown pass to bring the Broncos within an extra point of tying the game and sending it into almost certain overtime.

That's when Shanahan made the call that could shape the rest of the year for Denver.  Instead of kicking the gimme extra point, Shanahan immediately signaled to his offense to stay on the field and go for the two-point conversion.  Cutler converted to Royal again to send Invesco Field into an absolute frenzy.  The Broncos moved to 2-0 on the season and the biggest barricade between them and the AFC West title fell to 0-2. 

Now comes the imminent question:  WHY?  Shanahan went for two and the win when an extra point would have sent it into overtime.  Why risk losing the game and being ripped by NFL pundits nationwide all week long when you can play if safe, take the gift that was given to you, and take it into overtime?  Look at it like Vegas.  If you take ten dollars to the slot machine, play it, and win 200 dollars, then you've got 190 dollars of house money to gamble with.  Who wouldn't use it?  I know I would. 

Granted, football is slightly different than Vegas, but it's the same principle.  If you're on a roll, why not keep rolling?  They took the luck of the call and the drive and rolled the dice one last time, converting and sending Chargers fans into a spiraling depression, having lost twice in the last few seconds of the game two weeks in a row to start the season.

ON THE OTHER HAND... Was Shanahan simply giving Norv Turner a chance to keep the Broncos in the loss column after the blown call?  The Chargers had recovered the fumble-that-was and would have surely won the game after a couple of kneel downs because the Broncos were out of timeouts.  Did Shanahan go for two to say to Turner "Hey, it was a blown call, it changed the outcome of the game, so we're going to go for two and give you a chance to stop us and keep the victory"? 

Did Shanahan put his neck on the line to pull a respectable move like that?  He has not mentioned it in the media, at least not yet, but that has to be in the backs of our minds.  Maybe it was simply banking on the emotions of the players and the fans, or maybe it was Shanahan's attempt at letting the Chargers redeem themselves in a game they should have won.

Who knows?  That's why they play 'em.  Let's discuss it.