FOXBORO, Mass. — Tom Brady’s first game back at Gillette Stadium culminated with a controversial coaching decision.
Trailing by two with just under a minute remaining, the New England Patriots faced a fourth-and-3 from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ 37-yard line.
Rookie quarterback Mac Jones had completed 77.5 percent of his passes to that point — including a streak of 19 consecutive completions — and was facing a Bucs defense that was missing its top three cornerbacks. But rather than try for a first down, Patriots coach Bill Belichick sent out kicker Nick Folk to attempt a 56-yard field goal through a driving rainstorm.
Folk’s kick had the distance, but not the accuracy. It drilled the left upright, ending the Patriots’ upset bid and allowing the defending Super Bowl champions to escape Gillette Stadium with a 19-17 victory.
After the game, Belichick was asked whether he considered keeping his offense on the field for that fourth down.
“Not really,” the coach replied.
Asked again about the field goal Monday morning, Belichick noted the Patriots had gone just 2-for-9 on third down in the game. (They were 3-for-4, however, on third-and-5 or less, including one conversion via penalty.)
Was that the correct decision? According to ESPN?s win probability formula, yes.
By that model, the Patriots’ win probability would have dropped by nearly 8 percentage points had Belichick gone for it on fourth-and-3.
NFL Next Gen Stats, however, disagreed. Their metrics determined Belichick cost himself 10.3 percentage points of win probability by sending his field-goal unit out.
Analytics site EdjSports also took issue with Belichick’s decision, ranking it as the third-worst by any NFL coach in Week 4. Per their model, attempting a field goal dropped the Patriots’ win probability by 10.1 percentage points
Folk, who was limited in practice with a knee injury during the lead-up to Sunday’s game, shouldered the blame for his miss, saying he had “100 percent” confidence he could make the kick despite the nasty conditions.
“When I hit it, I thought it was good,” said Folk, who was good from 58 in warmups toward the same end of the stadium. “I wasn’t planning to go left. That’s the nature of the beast. … This one’s on me for this team. This one’s on me.”
Folk booted 50- and 51-yard game-winners last season but has not made a field goal from 55-plus since 2015. This was his first missed field goal since Week 2 of last season, snapping his franchise-record streak of 36 straight makes.
Even a successful kick in that scenario would not have guaranteed a Patriots win, as Brady would have gotten the ball back with roughly 50 seconds remaining.
Patriots tight end Hunter Henry, who was penalized for a false start on New England’s final drive, lamented a late missed opportunity, as Jones had wide receiver Jakobi Meyers open one play before the field-goal try but had his pass batted at the line.
“It was tough,” said Henry, who caught one of Jones’ two touchdown passes in the loss. “Gosh, we had Jakobi wide open on a route that we’ve executed a ton. And for that pass to be tipped, it’s tough. I felt like we executed the two-minute drill really well, moved the ball down the field, and to get the ball tipped — they made a play, and we didn’t.”
The 1-3 Patriots will look to bounce back this week against a Houston Texans team that lost to the Buffalo Bills 40-0 on Sunday.