The coach hailed as one of the NFL's best was a target of
columnists, talk radio callers and two of his former players. Why, they all
wondered, did he gamble with a six-point lead and just over two minutes to go
against the Indianapolis Colts?
The gamble failed and the Patriots lost 35-34 after
leading by 17 points in the fourth quarter Sunday night.
"The same thing I said after the game," Belichick said at
his regular Monday news conference. "I thought it was our best chance to win. I
thought we needed to make that one play and then we could basically run out the
clock. We weren't able to make it."
An average punt would have left Peyton Manning about 60
to 70 yards from the end zone, a long distance but one Manning has traveled
before with little time left.
But when the Patriots gained 1 yard on fourth-and-2, his
task became much easier. Manning got the ball at the New England 29-yard line
and four plays later he threw a 1-yard touchdown pass to Reggie Wayne with 13
seconds left. Matt Stover's extra point was the winning margin.
Belichick was noncommittal Monday when asked if he would
make the same decision again.
"You only get one chance," he said.
When that chance ended, the second guessing started.
NBC analyst Rodney Harrison, a safety for Belichick for
six years who retired before this season, called it "the worst coaching decision
I've ever seen Bill Belichick make."
ESPN analyst Tedy Bruschi, who retired this year after
14 seasons as a Patriots linebacker, said, "The decision to go for it would be
enough to make my blood boil for weeks. … I would look at this decision as a
lack of confidence in our ability as a defensive unit to come up with a big play
to win the game."
The loss dropped the Patriots to 6-3, three games behind
the unbeaten Colts, and hurt their hopes for home-field advantage in the AFC
playoffs and for avoiding a game in the first round. They're home against the
New York Jets on Sunday.
Belichick has made plenty of aggressive calls that
worked. He's led the Patriots to three Super Bowl wins this decade. Might it be
unfair for critics to pounce when one gutsy call doesn't pan out?
"Everybody's entitled to their opinion out there," he
said. "I respect that."
Not everyone piled on.
Colts coach Jim Caldwell, the beneficiary of Belichick's
decision, held off.
"I just think that every situation is different,"
Caldwell said, "There are things that you have to weigh, you have to take into
account, and things that are not readily available to the public, so I'm not
going to question anybody's decision, especially someone who has won more Super
Bowl championships than most people dream about."
It was hardly a spur of the moment decision. Belichick
said he "pretty much" decided before the third-and-2 play that he would go for
it on fourth down.
But when Tom Brady threw an incompletion toward Wes
Welker on third down, some members of the punt team went on the field, some
offensive players walked off, and the Patriots called their final timeout.
"We had a little miscommunication on that as to whether
we were going to go (for the first down) or punt it," Belichick said. "That
wasn't cleanly handled. Again, I'll take responsibility for that."
The Patriots had used their other two timeouts in the
second half to sort things out.
Welker called the first with 12:46 left in the third
quarter when he spotted the team in the wrong formation, a decision Belichick
agreed with. The second came with 2:23 left in the game after a Colts kickoff
because "we were heading into a series there and we just wanted to make sure
that everything was right," Belichick said.
So with no timeouts left, he couldn't challenge the
spotting of the ball a yard short of the first down when Kevin Faulk was tackled
after bobbling, then catching, Brady's fourth-down pass.
"I think he had the first down when the ball hit his
hands," Belichick said, "and then where it was finally marked and all was a
little bit short."
But, he said, "it doesn't really matter" if he disagreed
with the spot.
Then the defenders returned to the field, defenders who
may feel their coach lacks confidence in them.
"I tell the team, and I think they believe, that I do
what I feel like is best for our football team to win every game," he said. "I
put the team first and I put those decisions first. I would hope everybody
What will Belichick's message to them be when they
return to practice Wednesday?
"We'll start getting ready for the Jets," he said.
"That's what we do every week, start turning the page and we move on."
Powered by WordPress.com VIP