Bill Belichick’s Fourth-Down Call Was Unconventional Yet Courageous

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Bill Belichick's Fourth-Down Call Was Unconventional Yet Courageous Head coaches don't get praised for putting their team in a position to fail, and Bill Belichick deserves all of the criticism he'll receive for a questionable decision to go for it on fourth down late in the New England Patriots' 35-34 loss on Sunday to the Indianapolis Colts.

There are two sides to the debate — whether the Patriots, who led 34-28, should have gone for it on fourth-and-two from their own 28-yard line with 2:08 remaining in the fourth quarter, or, in a more traditional way, taken the safe route and punted — and only one of those sides has any tangible evidence for its argument. Tom Brady completed a pass to the right side to Kevin Faulk, who ran a two-yard out route, but it came up about a foot short and the Colts scored the game-winning touchdown four plays later.

By that logic, Belichick made the wrong decision. Rather than taking the risk, Belichick should have kept the punt team on the field and given the ball to the Colts around the Indy 30-yard line with about 1:50 to play and one timeout remaining.

By my logic — and I fully understand I'm in the minority — Belichick made the correct decision. Granted, if I'm on the Patriots sideline Sunday night, cutoff hooded sweatshirt and all, I never would have imagined going for it in that situation. But after Belichick put his offense back on the field, I admired his courage to go against conventional thinking, even if his swagger cost him a victory.

"We thought we could win the game on that play," Belichick told the media in his postgame news conference. "That was a yard we thought we could get."

For a team that prides itself on having one of the best offenses in football, along with one of the great clutch quarterbacks in NFL history, it seems as though percentages would be in the Patriots' favor to gain two yards. And if they punted, percentages seem to favor Peyton Manning's ability to lead a comeback.

After all, Manning's Colts trailed by 17 points about 10 minutes earlier, and they trailed by 13 points just 30 seconds prior to this fourth-down decision. Granted, Manning threw an ugly interception in the middle of all that, but the comeback was already underway.

Brady is always praised for his late-game heroics, and he's got 29 game-winning drives after his team was either behind or tied in the fourth quarter. But Manning entered Sunday with 39 in his career, and 28 of them have occurred since Brady won the starting job in New England. Therefore, Sunday marked the 40th comeback of Manning's career and his 29th during the Brady era.

Take it a step further, and Manning had six such comebacks in 2008, and this was his fourth in 2009 — and his third in three November games. In the last two years, Manning has perfected the comeback in a way Jay-Z could only dream about.

Belichick clearly weighed a lot of things when he called a timeout prior to the fourth-down attempt, and you can guarantee Manning dominated those thoughts. Of course, Belichick's critics will say he should have shown more faith in his defense, which has clearly played well this season, but that same defense had already given up 27 points to Manning, including two fourth-quarter touchdowns.

Faith is earned. And this isn't charity.

Plus, Manning led the Colts on a 79-yard, six-play touchdown drive on their previous possession, which spanned 1:49 (and got a giant assist from a generous pass-interference penalty, but who's to say the Colts don't get another call like that in their building?).

By going for it on fourth down, Belichick made sure the Patriots controlled their own destiny, which is much more reassuring than just hoping Manning doesn't pull off another miracle. Let's face it. As most Patriots opponents — even the most talented ones — have learned, it can be a helpless feeling watching a great quarterback pick apart your defense late in a game, and those can be the times you stand on your sideline second-guessing yourself.

"Coach has a lot of confidence that we can gain a yard and a half to win the game," Brady told the media after the game. "You punt it to them, and they showed on the drive before they can go down pretty quickly and score, also. They had some timeouts. If we make that play, we probably win the game.

"Coach is being aggressive, and I love that about him. He gave us a chance to make the play. Sometimes, you come up a little bit short, and we did."

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