Bill Belichick did a lot of dumb things on Sunday night.
Not punting wasn’t one of them.
Let me begin by saying that Belichick screwed up the end game royally. Facing a 3rd and 2, and a team with 1 timeout left, Belichick had an easy call: RUN THE FOOTBALL.
Indy has the 26th ranked ‘Power’ defense in the league. They only stop runs on third and fourth and two about 27% of the time. Conversely, NE is 5th in power running, converting 76% of all power runs. Running the ball on third down would have (at least) forced the Colts to burn their last timeout. Assuming Indy made the stop (which is a HUGE assumption), perhaps punting to them would be more palatable knowing they would be out of timeouts. Even had they been stopped on third down however, the odds of Indy stopping them on consecutive runs would be impossibly low. Add in the wasted timeouts, and it was a very un-Patriotlike final drive. The Pats screwed it up, just not how everyone thinks.
Let’s tackle the popular reasons that people are citing for attacking Belichick’s decision:
1. “You have to play the odds”-Tony Dungy.
He did play the odds. The odds favor going for it. Speaking strictly in mathematical terms, in a vacuum Belichick made the right call. PERIOD. Going for it was the high percentage play. Now, football isn’t played in a vacuum, of course so add in these factors:
2. He said to his defense, “I don’t trust you”
So what? Why should he have trusted his defense? Instead he said to his offense, “I do trust you”. This is nothing but emotional blather. So let’s say he trusts his defense, and Manning drives 70 yards for the winning score on them. Wouldn’t that be MORE devastating than BB not trusting them by going for it? Moreover, if he doesn’t trust his defense, what good does it do to tell them he does? This is just stupid talk. His defense had already allowed 14 points on two 79 yard drives that lasted 2:04 and 1:49 IN THAT SAME QUARTER. What possible sense does it make to trust your defense?
3. No one would do that in that situation.
Oh ok. The Patriots won three Super Bowls doing things unlike any other franchise in the NFL, and now BB is supposed to punt because that’s what everyone would do? No way. That’s an argument for cowards and the morally weak. I don’t want my son to grow up to be like Bill Belichick in almost any respect but one: I want him to have the courage and intelligence to do what no one else would do when it’s the right decision.
4. He opened himself up to criticism.
He did that the moment he picked up a headset. If anything, he successfully distracted the world from the fact that his team folded like a house of cards.
The Pats offense did NOTHING in the final 2.5 quarters. They scored 10 points on drives that started from the Indy 7 and the Indy 31. They also turned the ball over twice. That’s the definition of doing nothing.
The Pats defense gave up 28 points already and was about to have Peyton Manning drive the length of the field on them.
Instead, Belichick flipped the script. Instead of the headlines being, “PATS WEAK”, “PATS BLOW LEAD”, “PATS DEFENSE SOFT”, “BRADY GREAT IN FIRST HALF, WEAK IN SECOND HALF” everyone is focused on what an idiot Belichick is, as if he gives two craps what they say.
Bill Belichick fell on his sword for his team Sunday night. They folded, and he took responsibility in the most manly way possible. No one is questioning the players about their mistakes. They are all focused on the coach. It’s brilliant.
Let me end by saying this: Belichick might have killed the Colts on Sunday night. By being aggressive and failing, he has opened the door for Jim Caldwell to play passive the rest of the year and get away with it. Now when Jim punts instead of going for it, the local fans and media will embrace the conservative calls. This possibility terrifies me. Don’t listen to the pundits. Belichick did the right thing. I can only hope Caldwell has the balls to do the same when it matters.