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2019 NFL playoffs Patriots vs Chargers: Bill Belichick explains why he did not pull the starters late in the game

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A little insight into the coach’s mind.

Houston Texans v New England Patriots Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images

On Sunday, the New England Patriots played their best game of the season — especially in the first half: the team moved the football at will against the Los Angeles Chargers early on, and with the exception of a long touchdown pass given up in the first quarter shut one of the NFL’s best offenses down. It was a dominant performance that helped New England jump to a commanding 35-7 lead at the half.

The Patriots added three more points midway through the third period to increase their lead even further. And even though L.A. responded with a touchdown drive that made it a 38-14 game, with only 16:16 left in the game the contest was pretty much decided in the home team’s favor. Too dominant was New England in all three phases, too overwhelmed the Chargers despite their second touchdown.

Of course, Patriots head coach Bill Belichick saw it differently and kept his starters in the game even after the team went up 41-14 and forced a subsequent Los Angeles three-and-out: with 11:47 to go in the fourth quarter and up 27 points, Tom Brady and the rest of the starting offense entered the field again. For Belichick, the decision was no difficult one to make as he explained after the game.

“We’re trying to score until I thought the game got to the point where they didn’t really have enough possessions to catch us,” he said about his rationale behind the decision to not pull Brady and other key starters from the contest. “Look, we’ve seen Peyton Manning come down from 21 points in four minutes and win so it’s not over until it’s over in this league. I know I’m in the minority on that but until it’s over, you’re trying to score.”

“You’re trying to find a way to win,” Belichick continued. “There’s no lead — 28-point lead, 24-point lead, 21-point lead — I don’t think that’s ever really safe in this league. I’ve seen them evaporate and certainly we had a game like that this year. Yeah, we’re still trying to score and at some point when there’s not enough possessions then it’s about the clock but that got pretty deep into the fourth quarter before that was really the case.”

New England’s head coach was proven somewhat right in the fourth period as the Chargers scored two touchdowns to come within 13 points of tying it. The team needed most of the remaining clock to do that, however, which meant that there never was a realistic chance the comeback would indeed succeed. But had the team’s first onside kick gone differently — Patriots special teamer Nate Ebner caught it mid-air — the complexity of the game might have changed a bit late.

Ultimately, it didn’t but New England’s head coach didn’t want to give L.A. any potential momentum and decided to keep Brady and company in the game. “Unfortunately, in the third quarter we missed a couple of opportunities to offensively, get touchdowns, and defensively, well, we didn’t move the ball very well in the fourth quarter on offense and gave up three touchdowns on defense,” Belichick said.

As a result, the franchise quarterback and other core Patriots — from the offensive line to the team’s starters in the secondary — had to go wire-to-wire. Belichick, himself no stranger to improbable comebacks (think 28-3), did not want to leave anything up to chance.

Welcome to Pats Pulpit Live: Victory Edition! The Patriots whooped the Chargers 41-22 and will be heading to Kansas City to take on the Chiefs in next week's AFC Championship Game!

Posted by Pats Pulpit: For New England Patriots News on Sunday, January 13, 2019