During this Sunday's game against the Texans, the Patriots punted in a couple of situations where you never see them do so. In the first half, down 10-7, they punted on 4th and 5 at the Texans' 37 yard line and in the 2nd half, they punted on 4th and 13 at the Texans' 38 up 30-28.
The pattern of punting deep in the opponents territory extends to the Saints game. Late in the 4th, the Patriots punted at the Saints' 35 yard line. While the game was over, they didn't even bother giving Stephen Gostkowski an opportunity to kick a live game 52 yard field goal, which Belichick has done before. And for the record, the Patriots had already covered the -6 spread and the over 55.5 had cashed, so there was no Vegas conspiracy.
Last season, the Patriots had a grand total of 1 punt inside the opponent's 40 yard line, and that was a punt with less than a minute left in the 4th in their blowout win against the Browns. In fact, according to Pro Football Reference, the last time that Patriots punted inside the opponent’s 40 yard line and it was not garbage time (defined as a win expectancy of over 99.9%) was in September 2013. It was Ryan Allen’s 1st career game and his 4th career punt. The Patriots have already done it twice this season.
The aggressive modus operandi of the Patriots on offense just makes these decisions all the more confusing. Did Belichick really not trust Gostkowski to kick a 54 yard field goal to tie the game? Hell, another better idea would be to go for it. Josh McDaniels has plenty of safe 5 yard plays (and an offsides means a 1st down) and worst case scenario, they don’t get the look they want, they take a delay of game and get an easier punt with less of a chance of a touchback.
And on 4th and 13 in the 4th, up 2, Belichick really couldn’t count on Gostkowski from 55? While Gostkowski has struggled a little with his accuracy on extra points the last couple years, he remains a very accurate long distance kicker. There is absolutely no evidence whatsoever that Belichick has lost faith in Gostkowski as a kicker: the Patriots brought no competition for him this offseason and didn’t even host a kicker for a workout.
For anyone unfamiliar with the famous NY Times 4th down bot, it’s a formula based on maximizing expected points in any given 4th down scenario. The bot says the Patriots should have gone for it on 4th and 5 and on 4th and 13, it was a 50/50 tossup between punting and kicking a field goal. When your kicker is Stephen Gostkowski, a 73% career 50+ kicker, you definitely kick the FG. And this doesn’t even take into account that this chart is from 2014, and kicking has gotten even better since then.
The only reason I can deduce why Belichick would eschew 50+ yard field goals from his Pro Bowl kicker on a nice day with no wind is that he was discouraged by the 4th and short failures against the Chiefs, where they went 0/2 on 4th down on their way to a disappointing loss. But Belichick should know that what happened in game 1 has no correlation on what happens in game 3. If not for Tom Brady’s heroics on his final 4th quarter drive, these decisions could have cost the Patriots the game.
The Patriots lack an identity on defense so far this season, and the offense has had to shoulder the vast majority of the weight. We’ll see if this punting trend continues throughout the year, but decisions like these to punt aren’t helping the cause, and they certainly aren’t giving Gostkowski any confidence from his coaches.