If Sunday’s game against the Chargers felt like a roller coaster ride there is plenty of statistical evidence to back up your feelings. Within minutes in the fourth quarter the Redskins went from near-certain victory to having an infinitesimal chance of winning.
People pay a lot of money to ride roller coasters shaped like the on in this win probability graph on Pro Football Reference. If you’re not familiar with it, the chart shows the home team’s probability of winning based on the score, field position, and down and distance at any given moment of the game. So when the line is closer to the top, the Redskins had a better chance of winning and when it’s near the bottom the Redskins’ probability of victory is lower.
The Redskins peaked with a 98.6 percent chance of winning the game with 6:47 left in the fourth quarter. The Chargers had the ball down by 10, second and 10 at their own 23. According to the number crunchers the team on defense in that situations wins the game 98.6 percent of the time.
Fast forward to just after referee Jerome Boger decided that Danny Woodhead didn’t quite get into the end zone after catching Philip Rivers’ pass. Trailing by three with 29 seconds left and a first and goal at the one, the Chargers had a 99.9 percent chance of winning. Flipping that around, the Redskins at a 0.1 percent chance of victory or one in 1,000.
The PFR searchable play-by-play database goes back to 1999 and since that season only one team other has won a game when it led by three and the other team had the ball first and goal at the one in the last 30 seconds of regulation. In 2007 the Cardinals trailed by three and moved to first and goal at the one with six seconds left. They kicked a field goal to tie the 49ers at 31 but San Francisco won in overtime. In the other seven games, the team that had the first and goal at the one ultimately won the game, either right then or in overtime.