I'll be honest. This one hurts.
The Patriots tonight were somehow able to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. They embarrassed themselves in front of a national TV audience against a hated rival, and likely destroyed any chances of getting home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.
As the media and fans digest this loss, conversation and analysis will undoubtedly center on one play: Bill Belichick's decision to go for it on 4th-and-2 at the Patriots 28-yard line.
This is sensible, after all, it flies in the face of traditional thought. Indeed, Cris Collinsworth was immediately critical of the move, questioning the call even before the play unfolded.
The strategy's failure, of course, makes it more likely to draw fire.
I don't, however, believe it was that decision that cost them the game.
Consider the situation. The Patriots defense had just been gashed for a long drive in a relatively short period of time (around 1:52 in game time, if I'm not mistaken). The team's linemen had been unable to either pressure Peyton Manning or stop the run.
Giving the Colts the short field isn't exactly the boneheaded move it seems at first glance. With a long field, the worn-down Patriots defense would have to run with Indy's receivers. Within the red zone, players don't have to cover as much area, giving them crucial rest.
Also, remember that the play called would have relied on Tom Brady and Kevin Faulk, both of whom have been reliable over the years and had been playing especially well that game.
And, let's also not forget that it almost worked. If not for a bobble and an odd call by an official (I've seen a lot of football and never seen that called), Pats fans would be celebrating instead of mourning.
If anything cost them the game, I think it was the sequence that began the drive. Calling a timeout and then coming back with a run that everyone on the planet saw coming was completely devastating.
Really, it was bad enough that the team burned a crucial timeout (one that could've been used to challenge the fourth-down play, mind you), but at the beginning of a drive? Before the team could even line up?
Don't get me wrong, if I had a time machine (and presumably, access to the Patriots sideline), I'd go back and beg Belichick to punt.
The call though, didn't kill the Pats.