November 16, 2009

IT WAS THE PLAY CALLING, NOT THE CALL:

No matter which way you dissect it, Bill Belichick made a bad call (Peter King, 11/16/09, SI)

Let's start with 2:23 left in the game, New England up 34-28 with two timeouts left. The Colts had three timeouts left, plus the two-minute warning stoppage, so New England needed at least one first down to bleed much of the clock, and two to run the clock out entirely. As Tom Brady got to the huddle and saw the play clock winding down, he noticed the wrong personnel group on the field for the play that was called. A very uncharacteristic mistake by the Patriots, and Brady signaled for a timeout. One left for New England, which really was only important in case the Patriots wanted to challenge an officials' call in the next few seconds.

Kevin Faulk up the middle for no gain; Indianapolis timeout. Brady eight-yard pass to Wes Welker; Indy timeout. On third-and-two, Brady, pressured, threw a ball for Welker that was nearly picked off by Colts rookie cornerback Jerraud Powers. Incomplete. Fourth-and-two.

New England timeout, 2:08 left. The Patriots' last one.

Why? I wondered. Get the punt team on the field, try to pin Peyton Manning back as far as you can, and make him drive 70 or so yards. The New England punter, Chris Hanson, hadn't had any of his four punts returned, and he'd averaged a 44-yard net. So if he did what he'd done all night, the Colts would start at their own 28 at the two-minute warning with one timeout left.

Belichick was talking to Brady on the sidelines. I was sure they were talking about trying to draw the Colts offside with a hard count; there was no way he'd be authorizing going for it on fourth down. But back went Brady to the field, and he lined up in the shotgun, and started calling signals without the head-bob you normally associate with trying to draft a team offside.

"My God,'' I thought, "he's going for it!''

Two things had to factor in here. One: Belichick didn't want to give Manning the ball with two minutes to go; he'd just seen Manning take the Colts 79 yards in six plays for a touchdown. Two: He trusted Brady to get two yards. Let's place the odds of Brady getting two yards at 60, 65 percent. The odds of Manning going 72 yards to score a touchdown in less than two minutes ... that's maybe 35 percent.


They had two downs to go two yards. If two run plays outside the Red Zone can't get them then you aren't an NFL team.

Posted by Orrin Judd at November 16, 2009 6:42 AM
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