Every last couch potato/NFL expert in the country is second-guessing Bill Belichick’s decision to go for it on fourth-and-two from the Indianapolis 29-yard line, clinging to a 34-28 lead with just over 2:00 to play.
But you know what? I’m going to try and defend the Patriots head coach.
Wait — let me explain.
See, what Belichick was thinking was …
Um, he wanted to go for it because …
(Sound of ticking clock.)
I just can’t do it. I can’t think of one logical reason why you would give Peyton Manning two minutes to score the game-winning touchdown on a short field. On the road, no less. And in a game so critical to the playoff picture?
I mean, what in the name of Grady Little was going through coach Bill’s head?
"We thought we could win the game on that play," said Belichick, his face wearing the blank expression of a man caught somewhere between disbelief and discouragement shortly after losing the game (and, plenty would argue, his mind).
Look, this is a risky call when you’re playing a video game, let alone a winner-take-home-field showdown with your rival. This was like betting everything you’ve got on black at the roulette table, only to watch it land on red.
The coach gambled the game and lost. Lost big.
Belichick said he was confident that his offense could get those two yards. And why not? They had piled up 468 yards of offense to that point with relative ease.
But what he didn’t say publicly was that he must have lacked any and all confidence in his defense, which had yielded a pair of 79-yard touchdown drives to the Colts in two of the three previous possessions. Granted, the Patriots defense is still maturing. They have yet to make a game-saving stand, one like Willie McGinest stuffing Edgerrin James or Ty Law picking Manning.
But they did force Peyton into a pair of uncharacteristic interceptions.
Maybe the Patriots defense was gassed. Still, don’t you take your chances with your defense on the longer field, rather than risking the 29-yard gimme putt that you left Manning with?
Of course, if Kevin Faulk isn’t stopped short of the first down, then Belichick is hailed as a genius with a big set of brass ones.
Remember, the consensus was that Belichick’s brilliance won a game earlier in the season against Atlanta, after he opted to go for it on fourth down with the Patriots sitting deep in their own territory. They converted. But that was in the third quarter.
This was the fourth quarter with just over two minutes to play. And no timeouts, after burning their last pair on that drive.
But Tom Brady was not about to second-guess his head coach.
"That fourth-down play, that's one of your best plays, and you go to one of your best guys," Brady said. "We've got our offense on the field. We have over 450 yards of offense at the time. We've got a lot of great players on our offense. They stopped us."
While home-field advantage in the playoffs is now essentially off the table, the Patriots are still 6-3 and in control of the AFC East. Barring a catastrophe, they’ll be in the playoffs.
But the Colts are the bigger issue here. After New England dominated the early parts of this rivalry, Indianapolis has seemingly turned the tables with five wins in their last six games against them. The Colts are 9-0, winners of 18 straight and threatening the Patriots' all-time mark of 21 consecutive wins.
It seems that the Patriots are no longer in Peyton Manning’s head, as was once believed to be the case. If anything, it’s now the other way around.
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