First of all, I think the replay showed a first down. The official who spotted the ball did not have the best angle to make the call and he had a defender in his way to boot. If they make that first down, game over.
On the other hand, if you punt the ball to Peyton Manning with two minutes left at home, up by less than a touchdown, you are largely conceding the game. If anyone thinks that Peyton doesn’t march the team down the field and score you’re nuts.
I think we should be celebrating greatness or at least the pursuit of it. Instead, the status quo rules again. The same people who line up to criticize Belichick for “running up the score” will now appear in droves to say that it was a horrible call and finally we have proof that Bill Belichick is a big meanie and no longer a “genius”.
The decision to go for the first down shows several things. One, supreme confidence in his football team. Obviously, if they make the first down, Bill’s genius nearly doubles in size. He would have been heralded by the media, the fans and the Patriots players (past and present) alike. (yea Rodney Harrison, I’m looking at you, Mr. Declarative Statement) He would have won the game.
Two, Bill Belichick is very secure in his job. The vast majority of coaches in the NFL would never let that decision cross their minds because they are afraid of losing their paychecks. His job is secure. He went for the win. He lost the game. Moving on next week to the Jets.
Three, they made a good play call, completed the pass, and had a questionable spot dictate the end of the game. It was a matter of inches at the most. It’s not like they fumbled the snap or scrambled and threw it away. The play could not have been closer.
If you’re a Belichick hater and you want to criticize him, criticize him for time and replay management. Bill is usually one of the best in the NFL at clock management, yet Brady is calling a timeout to go over a play they just had several minutes to discuss? Why were there not several options? What exactly happened there? The circumstances are pretty specific… An official’s review of a play only occurs “within” two minutes. The time on the clock when the attempted conversion failed, two minutes. The Patriots had no time outs and were unable to initiate a video review of the spot. By the time the Patriots had a replay they wanted to challenge, they had burned 3 timeouts. They had stopped scoring every drive. They had given Peyton Manning all the time he needed to engineer a comeback. When you’re playing a team like the Colts and you have them on the ground, step on their necks. Double tap them, if you will. You can’t allow them to zombie their way to a 6 point deficit with two minutes remaining. If you’re looking for a point to criticize Belichick on, let’s talk about the play call on 3rd and 2. If you’re going to go for it on 4th anyway, why force an out to a very well covered Wes Welker? A bubble screen to Welker on 3rd and 2, great call. An off tackle or stretch run with a spread formation, great call. A timing route that was nearly picked off and returned for a touchdown? Why that Bill? Why not chip away half of the distance or even convert right there with a play call that has more factors involved than a receivers hand’s being at the same spot the ball is (and the defender’s not). A simple out route is a great play call if the defender is playing off, but if it’s tight man coverage and he even suspects it for a second he can jump the route and break up the pass. (or worse) A play involving team blocking and a runners ability minimizes risk of breakdown. There’s a good chance you gain at least half the distance you require even if the play was less than successful, setting up a quick snap QB sneak, or a run up the face of the D or a play action pass. Or something other than a two yard pass. Because at that point, in a 4th and 2 situation, the other team’s defense is really, really focused on Wes Welker, the tight end and Kevin Faulk. Like, really, really focused. In 4th and 1 or less, they have to account for Welker and Faulk, the TE, the run play, the play action pass, the QB sneak, the fade to Moss, the deep ball… all of it. It just seemed to me like the Patriots fumbled the end of that game. By fumbled I mean clock management and play calling. The coaches department. The players, for the most part, executed what they were asked to. If you’re going to criticize the head coach, dig a little deeper than the 4th and two.
The thing that cracks me up (oh, I’m not laughing) is the swell of fans and media calling it a bad call. Ok, sure. It didn’t work out. But the Patriots have converted over 70% of their 4th down conversions this season. The move showed balls the size of hippity hops. He believes in his offense and he knows what happens if Manning gets the ball back. The Patriots defense was able to do little more than surprise and trip up the Colts offense. On a long enough time line you run out of surprises for Manning, In fact, when the Colts stopped trying to run the ball and became as Manning later said more “one dimensional” they started moving the ball and scoring nearly at will. Not to go all Ayn Rand on you but I appreciate the boldness. I want the coach of my football team to have the freedom to make bold decisions. I am tired of panels and committee’s deciding our fates. Here’s a guy who has earned the right to make a decision. It’s so rare that we allow one man to do anything anymore. Everyone has to agree and compromise on everything and a singular vision gets blurred and sidetracked. Yet here we have a guy who’s sole desire is to improve his football team and win football games and people line up to tear him down. He made the call, they failed. They lost the game. Life moves on. Jets next week, division game, try to do better every minute.
When Shanahan went for two to win the game last season, he was a genius. When Belichick went for a 1st down vs Atlanta this season, on his own 24 yard line, he was lauded for the decision. When Belichick has his long snapper snap the ball through the uprights vs Denver in 2003, he was brilliant. When coaches make very bold decisions and they succeed, the masses trip over themselves to celebrate their guts, their confidence, their brilliance.
But you can’t have it both ways. You either support a decision or you don’t. You can’t just wait for the results to come in and decide then, with the benefit of hindsight, whether a good decision was made or not. A coach has to make decision’s based on a litany of factors, all within a very finite amount of time. The vast majority of the time NFL coaches go the safe route, the conservative approach. The vast majority of the time, a coach will call the prevent defense instead of blitzing, punt the ball instead of going for the first down. Often these conservative approaches produce head shaking and frustration among the fans. Going for the win is glorious. Coming up an inch short, considerably less glory. But before you know what the outcome is, you have to decide.
At that point in the game, if the Patriots convert the first down, they have won the game.
But they didn’t, and they lost the game. Would he do it again, in the playoffs? Let’s hope we have a chance to see. Because say what you want, that was an awesome football game.
I hope the Pats win next week by a hundred.