Late in the 4th quarter, Cam Newton and the Panthers were marching down the field in a tied game, looking for the game winning field goal. Aided by a ticky-tacky, but ultimately correct penalty for hands to the face by Stephon Gilmore, the Patriots were unable to generate a stop, and the Panthers kicked a 48 yard field goal as time expired, giving them a 33-30 win on the road.
But how did the Patriots let that field goal end the game with no time remaining? If they had used their timeouts correctly, they would have had an opportunity to get the ball back with a stop.
The crucial play begins on the Panthers’ final 1st down at the Patriots’ 34 yard line. Patrick Chung had just committed a ticky-tacky and ultimately incorrect penalty for defensive holding away from the running play.
1st and 10 at NE 34
(0:41 - 4th) (Shotgun) C.Newton up the middle to NE 31 for 3 yards (T.Flowers).
After this play, the Patriots didn’t call any timeouts, and the next play the Panthers ran had the game clock at 0:04. Given the math of the situation, that decision was completely unacceptable.
Game scenario if the Patriots called all of their timeouts
The Patriots could have called their 1st timeout immediately after Newton was tackled at 0:41 and faced the Panthers with a 2nd and 7 on the 31. If the Patriots then stopped the Panthers on their running plays on 2nd and 3rd down the Patriots could have forced a field goal with about 30 seconds left, assuming 5-7 seconds per play. Add 5 seconds for the field goal attempt and the Patriots would have had the ball back with about 25 seconds left on the 25, with no timeouts. Obviously, those odds are not great, but it would have at least given the Patriots a shot at winning, especially considering the fact that the Panthers’ defense had given up 14 points and 124 yards over the Patriots’ last 2 possessions. They had lost Kurt Coleman, Mario Addison and Vernon Butler to injuries earlier in the day.
The Win Expectancy chart reflects Belichick’s error. After that 1st and 10 run by Newton with 41 seconds left, the Patriots had a 31.0% win expectancy according to Pro Football reference. After Newton’s 1 yard run that centered the ball with 4 seconds left, the Patriots’ had a 0.3% win expectancy. Belichick literally cost the team over 30% win expectancy by not calling a timeout, which is basically unheard of for a decision that doesn’t involve a play being run.
Here are all of the pitfalls the Panthers could have fallen into if the Patriots had correctly called their timeouts.
- Jonathan Stewart could have fumbled like he did earlier in the game after a well timed punch by Trey Flowers. There is precedent for this happening, with the Patriots forcing late 4th quarter fumbles by Ryan Williams in their game against the Cardinals in 2012 and Kenyon Barner in their 2015 game against the Eagles.
- Cam Newton could have fumbled on a QB keeper. Newton has fumbled 16 times on 711 career rushes. That’s a 2.25% fumble rate. The league average fumble rate is 0.95%.
- The Patriots could have stopped the runs for a loss or drawn a holding penalty on the offense. After the run at 0:41, the Panthers had the opportunity to kick a 49 yard field goal, and the QB sneak then made the attempt 48 yards. Had the Patriots called timeout and pushed the FG backwards past 50 yards, they could have expected a different result. Graham Gano, who was close to losing his job in the preseason, is a career 57% kicker from 50+.
- And speaking of Gano, he had already missed an extra point on the day. He missed it from the right hash, which is why Cam ran a QB sneak with 4 seconds left, to center the ball that was previously on the right hash. If the Panthers were forced to run plays on 2nd and 3rd down when the Patriots had called timeouts, there is a solid chance that they would have either been runs to the middle or the left. Knowing where the plays were going would have allowed the Patriots to overload that side of the line and would have led to an increased chance of a tackle for a loss.
- And even if everything that was described above failed, the Patriots would have been guaranteed to get the ball back with about 25 seconds left and facing a reeling defense that was missing 3 starters. The Pats would have had to gain 35 yards with no timeouts for a field goal attempt or about 15 yards for a realistic Hail Mary attempt. The Patriots marched 35 yards in 15 seconds to end the 1st half, albeit with 2 timeouts. But 26 of those yards came on 1 play to Hogan, and 25 seconds is more than enough time for that long of a play to the middle and a spike, while still leaving time available for another sideline route.
Of course, the most likely outcome of the game was that none of these scenarios materialized for the Patriots. The Patriots only had a 31% win expectancy after that Newton run on 1st and 10. But for the Pats to just stand pat, do nothing, and just allow the Panthers to center the ball and kick a 48 yarder from the middle of the field in 1mph wind is just stupid.
For the 2nd week in a row, Belichick made some awful coaching decisions. I talked last week about how it was strange for the Patriots to punt inside the opponent’s 40 yard line and wondered why in the world they wouldn’t trust Gostkowski from 54 or 55 in conditions without wind. Well, 1 week later, Ghost nailed a 58 yarder. That makes last weeks decision all the more curious. As Belichick said after the game...
After loss, Belichick says Patriots need to "coach it better." Also looking for team to "play it better."— Tom E. Curran (@tomecurran) October 1, 2017
Now I’m not pretending to be a football expert of any kind with this questioning of Belichick. I’m just a college student that’s writing this in my microbiology class in order to avoid listening to the lecture about lac-operons and plasmids. But it is completely fair to look squarely at Bill Belichick and say that he has not put the team in the best situations to win the last 2 weeks, and the Chiefs game as well. Yes, the defense is horrendous, and likely the worst unit we’ve seen on the Patriots in the Tom Brady era. But that doesn’t exclude Belichick from the blame for what has been an absolutely awful September of coaching by his standards.