The New England Patriots made some puzzling decisions during their Week 6 overtime loss to the Dallas Cowboys. From kneeling out the first half despite 1:30 left on the clock, to Brandon Bolden being used as a short-down back, to multiple punts on 4th-and-short situations.
One of those punts happened in overtime. The Patriots, who received the opening kickoff of the fifth quarter, saw their drive stall after an incomplete pass on 3rd-and-3 at their own 46-yard line. Despite facing one of the most potent offenses in the game today — one that would only need a field goal to win in this scenario — head coach Bill Belichick decided to punt rather than be aggressive and leave his offense on the field.
The decision was a controversial one, especially considering that Dallas eventually drove down the field anyway to win on a 35-yard touchdown pass to CeeDee Lamb.
So, why did Belichick decide to punt rather than go for it on 4th-and-3? He explained his decision making during an interview on WEEI on Monday morning. Saying that he “not really” considered giving Mac Jones and the offense a chance to gain three yards, he named field position as the primary reason for the call.
“I mean with [Greg] Zuerlein, his field-goal range, they can play on a pretty short field there,” Belichick said, referencing the Cowboys’ strong-legged kicker. “So, then you’re talking about one first down could probably beat you there.”
Belichick’s explanation does have a sound internal logic: forcing Dallas to drive the length of the field rather than 10ish yards is putting the defense in a more favorable situation to get a stop. There is one aspect that cannot be disregarded, however, namely the fact that a conversion would have put the Patriots near midfield and given them more chances to burn clock and ultimately go for the game-winning points.
By punting on that particular fourth down New England therefore appeared to play overly cautious rather than being aggressive. That decision coming from a team with a 2-3 record — one going against one of the most explosive offenses in football — can certainly be questioned.
Hindsight is obviously 20/20, but the final punt was not the only decision made by the Patriots on Sunday that can be deemed too conservative.