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4th and 2: Why Belichick was wrong

I rarely question Bill Belichick.  The man is obviously light years ahead of me when it comes to football.  Heck, he's light years ahead of most people who KNOW football.  If there was a classroom full of football brains and Bill was in it, he'd be the guy the teacher got sick of calling on.  You know, the only guy with his hand up.

Even though he's much smarter than me about football, I do not subscribe to the "In Belichick We Trust" theory.  I think it's ok to question and discuss his decisions, be they draft choices, cuts, or whether or not to go for it on 4th and 2.

Before I get into it, a brief tangent into some silliness that's going on out there.  After torturing myself with some Boston Sports Radio, I've come to believe many sports fans are no more than thugs on a street corner.  Since when is a football decision considered arrogant?  If it was Tony Dungy making the same decision (last year, that is) would it be considered arrogant?  The thought that Belichick was thumbing his nose at the Colts' defence is utter lunacy.  It's a cheap shot by the small minded.  I also think guys like Indy DE Robert Mathis and LB Clint Session should let other teammates do the talking.  Both Session and Mathis sounded like common street thugs by playing the disrespect card.  Like the "arrogance" comments, it simply doesn't make any sense.  Maybe it's a way to get fired up, but it's a football decision.  Again, I don't think Belichick set out to say, "You can't stop me, therefore I'm going to go for it."  He was trying to make a play.  Session and Mathis should let DE Dwight Freeney do the talking; he at least sounds like an intelligent guy:

Said Dwight Freeney, the Colts' other DE: "As a defense, we take a lot of pride. When you go for it on fourth down in that situation, we have to make a play, and that's what we did. We stepped up."

Fair enough.  Well said.

Back to the decision.  This has been beaten to death.  The horse is dead and buried, but I'm going to dig it up and beat it some more.  Going for it on 4th and 2 was the wrong decision.  And it's not because hindsight is 20/20.  I remember thinking to myself, "Hmm... he's going for it.  Is that wise?"

The golden rule when playing quarterbacks like Tom Brady and Peyton Manning is this: Keep the ball out of their hands!!  Why?  Because they WILL make plays, that's why.  Manning proved that by using his hurry up offense to its fullest potential on 2 fourth quarter sprints for a total of 14 points.  Belichick had a very tough decision to make: try to convert a 4th and 2 with a 70% chance of success or punt and put the ball in Mannings hands, against a gassed Patriots defence, at roughly the Indy 30.  That gives Manning 2 minutes to go 70 yards, which he'd already done twice.

While percentages are good, there's a couple of issues for me:

  • The Indy defense was fired up.  That was the game right there.  They were playing for Truth, Justice, and the Indy front of THEIR crowd.  They were on pure adrenalin at that point.  I contend the success rate of that play, in that situation, is a far cry from 70%.
  • The decision shouldn't have been whether or not to go for it.  It SHOULD have been this: which choice has the least risk of failure, failure being an Indy TD?

We've just discussed the percentage for making that: about 70%.  But I contend differently; I'd suggest it was more like 30% in that situation.  Assuming I am correct, that's a 70% chance you'll give Manning the ball on the Patriot 29 with 2 minutes to go.  Giving the ball back to Manning after a punt and 70 yards to go is not an ideal situation either.  He just proved he can march down the field in under 2 minutes.  However, as gassed as the Patriots D was, they would also be playing for Truth, Justice, and the Patriot way.  I believe they could've risen to the challenge and stopped the Indy offense.  To sum it up, I believe punting had the least risk of an Indy TD.

Bill Belichick is a lot smarter about football than I am.  And he only had seconds to make this decision.  I am thankful for a coach who has a pair because this coach has done so much for us Patriot fans.  But you need to ask yourself, if you agree with his decision, if this was another "In Bill We Trust" moment.  If you truly believe he made the right decision, you're comfortable with the risk, and it's not a blind faith following of Hoodie, that's good.  I can respect that opinion.  However, I'm of the opinion punting would've given us the best chance of winning.

These games are so close.  So close...