Down 7-0, just 4 minutes into the game, the Secretary of our Trent Dilfer Club, Andy Dalton, stepped onto the field for the first time. After a 1-yard run, 10-yard holding penalty, and incomplete pass, the Bengals were backed into a 3rd-and-19 on their own 14. Dalton drops back, hits Andrew Hawkins who goes for exactly 19, converting to a new set of downs. Here's a look at how the drive unfolded using our Markov model:
Before the 3rd-and-19, there was an 85.3% chance of a punt and 3.1% chance of scoring a TD or field goal. In fact, the second greatest probability of a drive containing a 3rd-and-19 from one's own 24 is that of a fumble at 4.4% (third is an interception at 3.1%). But, Dalton laughed in the face of probability and converted, raising his chances of scoring to 31.9%.
Late in the drive, the Bengals had a 2nd-and-Goal from the 4 - which brings a scoring probability of 91.1%. This time, the Browns defied the odds, stopping two straight run attempts - including 4th-and-Goal from the 1, which ends in a turnover on downs about 15% of the time. Using the 4th down calculator, we know that Marvin Lewis made the right decision. The break even point both in terms of expected points and win probability is right around 30% (compared to an estimated 68% conversion rate).
After the stop, the Browns were backed up against their own end zone. A quick 3-and-out led to great field position for the Bengals, starting at the Cleveland 47. 3 plays later Cedric Benson ran around the left end for a 16-yard TD to tie the game.
In a game that was ultimately decided by 3 points, a 3rd-and-19 conversion that resulted in a +2.57 EPA was one of the forgotten game-changers. Dalton improves his record to 7-4 despite a mediocre +0.02 WPA for the game, fortifying his Trent Dilfer Club credentials.
Keith Goldner is the creator of Drive-By Football, and Chief Analyst at numberFire.com - The leading fantasy sports analytics platform. Follow him on twitter @drivebyfootball or check out numberFire on Facebook.