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Jets vs Dolphins: The Most Important Play

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What play hurt the Jets' chances of winning the most on Sunday?

Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

What was the most important play of Sunday’s loss to the Miami Dolphins?

What does Pro Football Reference's win probability think?

Pro Football Reference has a win probability formula that estimates a team's chances of winning based on factors like score, time, and down. Which play hurt the Jets' chances of winning the game the most Sunday by that formula?

Pro Football Reference says the Dolphins' kickoff return by Kenyan Drake for a touchdown with 5:42 left in the fourth quarter swung the game more than any other play.  Although their win probability graph was a bit confused at the time of the writing of this article, in that it registered the final touchdown as a Jets touchdown rather than a Dolphins touchdown, we can still estimate what PFR's graph would say if it got the score right. Immediately prior to the kickoff, with the Jets up  by three points and 5:42 remaining in the game, PFR estimated the Jets had a 74% chance of winning the game. From this we can deduce that after the kickoff return, with only another 12 seconds or so expired, and now the Dolphins had a four point lead, they must have had at a minimum the same 74% chance at winning.  Common sense says with a four point lead and a few seconds off the clock their chance would be better, so let's just peg it as a 50% swing, from 74% in favor of the Jets to 76% in favor of the Dolphins.  That should be in the ballpark of what PFR comes up with when they get the score right.  With the Jets having just taken the lead for the first time since the first quarter, this devastating turn of events instantly broke any momentum the Jets had gained by seizing the lead and put the Dolphins ahead once again.   It was a lead the Dolphins would never relinquish, as neither team scored the rest of the way.

What do I think?

I have to agree with Pro Football Reference on this one.  The kickoff return destroyed the Jets' fleeting momentum and sealed the Jets' fate.  Just moments before, the Jets got a huge turnover when the Dolphins' punter muffed the snap and left the Jets with a first and ten on the Dolphins' 18 yard line.  After a frustrating uphill battle all game in which the Jets repeatedly failed to convert red zone chances into touchdowns the Jets finally punched one in, with Ryan Fitzpatrick throwing a second down 18 yard strike to Jalin Marshall in the end zone.  It seemed momentum had finally shifted in the Jets' favor, and if they could just stop the Dolphins one time and put up a couple of first downs on offense the game would be over.

It never happened.  The Jets never got a chance to protect the lead, shut the Dolphins down on offense and run out the clock, all because the Jets lead lasted only as long as it took for the Dolphins to return the ensuing kickoff for a touchdown. It took the wind out of the Jets' sails, the Jets went three and out on the next series, and the game was all but over.

Allowing a return for a touchdown on the very next play after the Jets went ahead was disastrous. The Jets defense, which had mostly shut down the Dolphins in the second half, allowing only six points until the kickoff return, never got a chance to rise to the occasion and seal the win.  The Jets offense never got a chance to seize some  momentum and run out the clock.  On the road, trying to seal a comeback win late in the game, the Jets offensive and defensive units never got a chance to nail the coffin shut on the Dolphins, because the Jets special teams took it upon themselves to find a new way to lose a game in 2016.   A failure to capitalize on the go ahead score sealed the Jets' fate, and likely ended whatever faint playoff hopes the Jets were clinging to for the 2016 season.

What do you think?