Anatomy of a play call

Humor us for a minute.

Imagine you're sitting in your office, cubicle or perhaps the imposing board room down the hall -- wherever seemingly important decisions are made. Now imagine 70,000 people in front of you (not to mention a few million more armchair critics watching on television) are waiting for you to make a decision that affects your company.


The ramifications of your decision are this: Make the right call, you're a genius. Make the wrong call, you're officially crowned the village idiot. And to top it off, you have, oh, maybe five seconds to make the call.

Welcome to Dom Capers' world -- at the very least his world for a few choice seconds at the conclusion of Houston's win over Jacksonville. We're certainly not asking you to feel sorry for him. That's the type of pressure you choose to embrace when you become an NFL head coach. But in going for the win on the final play of regulation against Jacksonville, Capers simply did what most of us are taught to do when facing a decision.

"I think you go on instincts," Capers said. "We had the ball down there with inches left and I just felt that we had a number of people down. I felt confident with our guys up front, with our quarterback and his athletic ability, I felt like we could have made it. I felt like if we couldn't make two or three inches we didn't deserve to win the football game.

"There were mixed opinions on the sidelines on whether we should kick the field goal. Some guys were cheering to kick the football and some guys were cheering go for it."

Same in the stands, in the press box and presumably in many living rooms and sports bars around the country. But with the play clock running, Capers told quarterback David Carr to run the sneak and the result was the most exciting win in this organization's brief history.

"It was a great call by the coaching staff and I am just glad that I just got up with the touchdown," Carr said.

Capers acknowledged the call might have different last season. But Houston's offense has a lot more confidence in 2003, and in turn its head coach had confidence they could get those final few inches.

"This is a game of emotion and momentum," Capers said. "I felt confident we were going to make it. If we hadn't made it, you have to carry that around with you for the rest of the season."


Modest by nature, Capers has found his name all over the television highlights. Maybe if Steve Spurrier or Mike Martz had made a similar call, it wouldn't be as big as a story. Capers, much like other defensive-minded bosses like Bill Parcells and Tony Dungy, is considered conservative by nature.

But that's also a common misconception. Capers is the same guy who supported the notion of throwing deep on his team's first-ever play from scrimmage. He gave the go-ahead to throw across the field on a late punt return last season in Jacksonville. And, yes, there is even the occasional halfback option throw.

Plus, there's actually some precedent here. In his first game as a head coach in 1995, Capers' expansion Panthers opened at the Georgia Dome against the Falcons. Carolina scored a late touchdown to pull within one point and Capers decided to roll the dice and go for the two-point conversion.

But the right tackle was called for illegal procedure, pushing the ball back five yards. Capers elected to kick the extra point and the Falcons eventually won 23-20 in overtime.

"And the two-point play we had called was wide open," Capers said. "We were that close." Close wasn't an option for the Texans with the ball resting at the Jaguars 1. But the result of Capers' quarterback sneak call could push them even closer to contention.

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