The New York Jets were down 41-0 late in the 4th quarter when their best drive of the day stalled at the New England Patriots 11-yard line. It was clear that the Jets were not going to win the day, but it was still surprising to see a team line up to take a field goal attempt in this specific scenario.
With 6:20 left in the game, Jets K Nick Folk hit the field goal to draw the game to 41-3. It was an utterly meaningless score that probably allowed Patriots head coach Bill Belichick to yell at his team for the next week. It was also a pretty rare occurrence.
Since Pro Football Reference’s box score database begins in 1994, there have only been five field goal attempts in the 4th quarter by a team trailing by 40 or more points. Coincidentally, Nick Folk has attempted two of them, including one as a member of the 2008 Dallas Cowboys. Former 49ers K Joe Nedney kicked two of his own in 2005 and 2006. Bears K Paul Edinger missed his attempt in 2000.
It seems like it’s a coin flip whether teams decide to kick a field goal or to go for it on fourth down when trailing by 40 or more points in the 4th quarter, and distance to go doesn’t seem to be a factor.
No team wants to be shut out, especially during the holiday season. But when a team hasn’t played well all day and has questions over the effort of its players, settling for a field goal seems like a subtle resignation about the ineptitude of the franchise.