A Game of Margins
As I’ve often written, one of the most powerful ideas in economics is the idea of “thinking on the margin.” That applies to this year’s Super Bowl, Super Bowl LVI.
Like hundreds of millions of people, I watched the Super Bowl yesterday. In case you haven’t heard, the Los Angeles Rams beat the Cincinnati Bengals by a score of 23-20 with a touchdown and a point after in the last 2 minutes of the game.
When I see a score that close, I immediately think of margins.
For a few minutes this morning, I watched Get Up on ESPN and although some of the commentary seemed well thought out, other comments showed little awareness of how a few little things could have changed the outcome.
So, for example, commenter Dan Orlovsky thinks that Matthew Stafford, the winning quarterback, should be inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame. He might be right but his support leaned heavily on the idea that Stafford deserved it because he led the Rams to victory in the last 2 minutes.
But at least one other commenter pointed out that it was defensive tackle Aaron Donald who cinched the victory with a sack of Cincinnati QB Joe Burrow in the last minute of the game.
If I watched the game again, which I don’t plan to do, something for which my wife will thank me, I could probably find other important margins. One was a relatively tacky-tack penalty for pass interference against a Bengals defender on the Rams’ last touchdown drive, a call that, of course, automatically led to a first down and let the Rams continue their drive.
Here’s how Berry Tramel of The Oklahoman describes it:
Third-and-goal, Rams ball at the Bengal 8-yard line, 1:47 remaining in the game, Cincinnati up 20-16. Stafford threw across the middle to Cooper Kupp, but linebacker Logan Wilson dove and knocked down the pass.
Then here came a penalty flag, for defensive holding. Replays showed very little. The Rams were facing fourth-and-goal from the 8-yard line, with the season on the line. Instead, LA scored four plays (counting three penalties) later.
“Replays showed very little.” That was my take too. If the penalty had not been called, Stafford would have had only one more try to hit the end zone (unless, of course, on that 4th down they called another defensive penalty.)
To his credit, Tramel points out an egregious non-call, one that my wife, who hates football, quickly noticed, but one that went unnoticed by the refs. Tramel writes:
However, that didn’t cost Cincinnati the game. The Bengals were blessed by an officiating error. Burrow threw a 75-yard touchdown pass to Tee Higgins on the first play of the third quarter. Higgins grabbed cornerback Jalen Ramsey’s facemask, and quickly flung Ramsey out of the way, en route to the catch. No flag.
So Cincinnati was on both ends of the NFL’s propensity to protect receivers at all costs – ticky-tack fouls on defenders in coverage, while ignoring egregious acts by receivers.
Nope, can’t blame the officials for this one.
Think on the margin.