Mike Shanahan likes receiving the ball first in the second half, rather than at the start of the game. (John McDonnell/The Washington Post)

In each of their last four games, the Washington Redskins have won the coin toss, but  elected to kick off to opponents and receive the kickoff at the start of the second half.

That strategy breaks with Coach Mike Shanahan’s longstanding tradition, but the coach said that he stumbled across a statistic that prompted him to make the change this season.

 “I’ve always been the other way. I’ve always taken the ball in the past,” Shanahan said. “This year, I’ve done it because I saw a percentage I hadn’t seen before – that people that defer win well over 60 percent. I said, ‘Hey, that’s an interesting stat. Why not go with the percentages?’ I kind of like it, too. Coming out at halftime and having a chance to get the ball first kind of fires up the team at halftime. I know when we get the ball, we have a chance to go the distance.”

Washington is 2-2 in games when Shanahan has elected to receive the second-half kickoff. Getting the ball first hasn’t ensured points to start the third quarter.

The first time Washington deferred, the Redskins trailed the Bengals 24-10 at halftime,  then scored on the opening possession of the second half. They wound up losing that game, however.

The following week against Tampa, the Redskins led 21-6 at halftime, but didn’t score in the third quarter despite getting the ball to start the second half. They did, however, go on to win the game.

In a loss to Atlanta, the Redskins and Falcons were tied 7-7 at halftime, but Washington didn’t score on its first possession of the second half and lost after allowing 17 fourth-quarter points.

 Against Minnesota, the Redskins led 17-9 at halftime and scored on their opening possession of the third quarter to extend their lead to 24-9. Washington went on to win the game.

Shanahan acknowledged that the odds of success aren’t drastically different under his new approach, but said he likes the security of knowing that his team will get the ball first in the second half.

“It’s nothing earth-shattering, but that’s the way we went. I kind of like starting the second half off with the ball.”