Did Bill Belichick Drop Ball With This First-Half Decision Vs. Bucs?

'Belichick and the numbers were not aligned -- and it cost the Patriots'


October 4, 2021

Bill Belichick made not one, but two debatable fourth-down decisions Sunday night in the New England Patriots’ loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Belichick’s decision to attempt a 56-yard field goal in the final minute rather than keep his offense on the field on fourth-and-3 has been scrutinized in the wake of New England’s 19-17 defeat. But the Patriots coach made another questionable choice late in the first half.

Facing fourth-and-2 from the Buccaneers’ 44-yard line, Belichick opted to take an intentional delay of game, then punt rather than trying for a first down. Tom Brady’s Bucs offense took over at its own 5-yard line and swiftly drove downfield before stalling near the red zone and settling for a Ryan Succop field goal.

The field goal cut New England’s lead to 7-6 just before halftime.

According to NFL Next Gen Stats’ win probability model, Belichick decreased the Patriots’ chances of winning by 5.1 percentage points by not going for it on fourth down.

From NFL.com:

“Belichick is known for his mastery of the middle eight, i.e., the last four minutes of the second quarter and the first four minutes of the third quarter. On Sunday night, however, Belichick and the numbers were not aligned — and it cost the Patriots.

“According to the NGS model, going for it was the optimal decision by 5.1 percent. Jones and the offense would have had a 59.7 percent chance of converting if they’d gone for it, and they would have had a better than 60 percent chance of winning the game if they’d converted. Instead of putting themselves in position to go up by multiple scores, the Patriots punted it away, and we know what happened next: Brady led an eight-play, 69-yard drive, resulting in a 44-yard field goal by Ryan Succop with just 13 seconds left on the clock. And the Buccaneers got the ball to start the second half.”

Next Gen Stats also took issue with Belichick’s late-game field-goal decision, determining that decreased the Patriots’ win probability by 10.3 points. Analytics site EdjSports also disagreed with the field goal, while ESPN Stats & Info’s data supported it.

Nick Folk’s 56-yarder had the necessary distance but doinked off the left upright, sealing a win for the visiting Bucs.

Thumbnail photo via Brian Fluharty/USA TODAY Sports Images
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