Do I . . .
A) Give Manning and the Colts the ball back with time to beat me?
B) Give Manning and the Colts the ball back with time to beat me?
or C) Get the first down and win the game?
Those were the choices that Bill Belichick had late Sunday night, with his Patriots leading by six. There was just over two minutes left in the game and Peyton Manning had just led his team down for a touchdown to put the Colts within reach. His defense looked absolutely gassed on the previous drive.
With a QB like Tom Brady and the offensive weapons that he commands, Bill Belichick had confidence that his players could execute a simple call. Pulling for the Colts, I admit I was nervous when I saw Belichick and Brady going over a play. I was thinking, why don't they just do the right thing and punt so Peyton can march the Colts to victory?
Belichick knew that all they had to do was go two yards to win the game. And as my favorite head coach Herm Edwards would say, "You play to win the game ." So they throw a quick two yard pass to Kevin Faulk and he makes the catch right at the marker! But he bobbles the ball, and the referee quickly spots the ball about a foot short.
If the Patriots had any remaining timeouts they might have been able to get the spot changed with a challenge. Unfortunately, they had unwisely used all their timeouts, and the time clock had narrowly gone under two minutes.
Needless to say, the Colts made going 30 yards for a touchdown in under two minutes look about as easy an NFL team possibly can. People seem to discount the skill it took for Reggie Wayne to make that grab on a hard thrown ball from Manning. As if reaching out to catch a rocket with the game on the line is no big deal.
Colts win, and the questioning is in high gear. Every football talking head is in uproar saying Bill Belichick has lost it. He must be the most arrogant man in pro sports, he doesn't have what it takes anymore! He's got no faith in his defense...blah blah blah. You get the idea, you've heard it all too.
For one minute, do you think that the Colts wouldn't have been able to score after a New England punt? They would have had to go at most 70 yards. Belichick was simply not willing to just give the ball up to the Colts if he had another option. He made the choice to fight off what would have been another great game ending drive by Peyton Manning, by not giving him the chance.
Here is the thing, sometimes you make a brilliant decision and fail. He made the absolute best decision and lost. Maybe Faulk could have run his route on step further, maybe you throw to surehanded Wes Welker instead. Regardless, he had confidence that his team could get the job done and finish the game. And he knew that if they didn't get the first down it's not all that much worse than if they had punted. The result in either case is Peyton Manning staring down another comeback victory.
This call doesn't mean that Belichick is arrogant, we didn't have to watch this game to already have made that assessment. It also doesn't mean that he has no faith in his defense. He just knew what he had already seen, and he knew who he was facing. He made the right call, and he would probably do it again.
The reaction of some people is just absurd. Some in the media are making this out to be the biggest bad decision since Marty Mornhingwed deferred in Sudden Death overtime and subsequently lost. This was a regular season game, a big one, but still only regular season. There is no reason to think that the Patriots will miss the playoffs now. They have no challenge in the AFC East.
There's really no harm done by this call. Turn the ball over, you lose. Punt, you lose. Get the first down, you win and are one game out for best record in the league. At the very least the Patriots showed that they are going for the win every time out.
And they have given the Colts something to think about for the future when they meet up in the playoffs. It may be that they've already been able to pull off the comeback. But it may also be that the Patriots are willing to do anything to get the victory.