Many people in New England were likely throwing their popcorn at the television after staying up late and weathering a dramatic Patriots comeback Sunday night only to see Bill Belichick defer possession when overtime began. But Denver’s quarterback was nonplussed when asked after the game whether Belichick’s call surprised him.
“No,” Peyton Manning replied flatly. “That’s what they do sometimes.”
It sounds like the Patriots’ captains were in the same boat as the fans, though.
While New England supporters were ripping their hair out over Belichick giving up possession to Manning at the beginning of overtime and choosing to take a favorable wind direction instead, the Patriots captains were more concerned that they’d misheard their coach.
“We all looked at each other like he was crazy — then we all asked again and again and again,” Logan Mankins told Comcast SportsNet. “And we just wanted to make sure we were doing exactly what he wanted. … We were just making sure — you never want to be that bonehead out there that, your coach tells you you want the ball and we want to kick it. So we were just making sure we were doing exactly what he wanted. That doesn’t come up very often where in overtime you say you don’t want the ball, so we were just making sure we had it exactly right.”
Other Patriots played it a little cooler after the game.
“Great decision,” Rob Gronkowski said, according to WEEI.com. “He is our coach, [and] we’re behind him with everything, especially coach Belichick. Whatever he has, we’re behind him. So it was a great call because we won.”
Rob Ninkovich said New England could see the benefits of the call pretty quick, as Manning couldn’t get the offense moving too far.
“Definitely,” he said. “I think that we were doing a great job there as far as when they were going into the wind. They had trouble getting the ball down the field. They were just trying to work the intermediate routes and run short little flat routes and crossers at the sticks. So it would be first down, second down, run, run. Getting the third-and-5 manageable situation to throw a short route.”
In the end, Belichick ended up looking prescient, as Manning could not get the Broncos into field goal range. The Patriots had their own troubles on offense, even with the wind, and only ended up winning after a muffed punt return, meaning they were far from guaranteed to score on the first possession even if New England had elected to receive.
“Bill’s a genius,” Devin McCourty said after the game. “He’s a genius. I mean, even the captains didn’t know. We [were] like, ‘Defer? Take the wind?’ And, it was obviously the best call, and it was a great call by him.”
They all say that now.