How rare was Rice's 4th-down conversion?

November, 26, 2012
11/26/12
3:09
PM ET

AP Photo/Gregory BullRay Rice converted a 4-and-29 attempt late in the Ravens win over the Chargers.
One of the most memorable moments from Week 12 came in the final minutes of regulation in the Baltimore Ravens 16-13 overtime win versus the San Diego Chargers.

Down by three points with less than two minutes remaining and facing a fourth-and-29 at the Ravens' 37, running back Ray Rice caught a Joe Flacco pass 1 yard beyond the line of scrimmage and gained 28 yards after the catch.

Ray Rice
Rice
With the run-and-catch, Rice picked up a critical first down to set up Justin Tucker for a game-tying field goal. Rice now has 409 yards after the catch this season, the third-highest total in the NFL and best among running backs.

It was the longest first down non-penalty conversion since Week 2 of 2001 when the Buffalo Bills converted a fourth-and-34 versus the Indianapolis Colts with Peerless Price catching a 40-yard pass from Rob Johnson.

According to ESPN’s Win Probability Tool, the Ravens had just a 23 percent chance of winning before the fourth-down play and it more than doubled to 47 percent following the conversion. Had Rice come up a yard short on the play, their chances would have fallen all the way to 5 percent.

Yet how improbable was it to actually convert a fourth-down attempt of that length?

Since 2001, four times teams have converted on fourth-and-26 or longer (excluding penalties and fake punt/field goal attempts). However, in that same time period there were only 19 times where a team actually attempted to go for it on fourth-and-26 or longer.

Contrary to popular belief, the odds are not incredibly long to convert a fourth-down attempt of that length; it is more rare that teams actually try to go for it in those situations.

In fact, looking specifically at fourth down and at least 29 yards to go, the predicted conversion rate based on historical data is about 10 percent.

That’s a far cry from the one-in-a-million odds that many nervous Ravens fans were likely thinking when coach John Harbaugh made the critical decision to go for it on fourth down late in the game.

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