Down 20-7 in the fourth quarter against the Indianapolis Colts, head coach Bill Belichick put his trust into the New England Patriots’ field goal unit rather than their offense. Facing a 4th-and-goal at the Colts’ 7-yard line, he called upon kicker Nick Folk to split the uprights from 25 yards out.
Folk did just that to bring the team within 10, but the decision was questioned almost immediately. Why did the Patriots go for three instead of seven points to reduce their deficit but still keep it at two scores?
On Monday, Belichick gave a glimpse into his late-game decision-making process against the Colts.
“I thought there was enough time left that we would have enough possessions to be able to score 10 points, which we conceivably could have,” Belichick said during a media conference call.
“I didn’t feel great about converting 4th-and-goal from the 7. Had there been less time, there’s a situation where you would go for it — or I would go for it — on 4th-and-goal at the 7, absolutely. I didn’t think, in that game situation, that would’ve been the best decision.”
The Patriots had scored their first points of the night earlier in the fourth quarter on a 12-yard pass from Mac Jones to Hunter Henry. Their defense then registered an interception on the ensuing drive to give the offense the ball back at its own 47-yard line.
Eight plays later New England faced a 1st-and-goal from the Indianapolis 4 .A Brandon Bolden run did take the Patriots to the 2-yard line, but a penalty against offensive lineman Michael Onwenu knocked the team back an additional 5. Following an incompletion intended for Henry on third down, Belichick went for the field goal to cut the deficit from 13 to 10 points.
His reasoning behind the decision was based on the game situation and his team’s timeouts. With nine minutes to go, New England still had all three of them left plus the two-minute warning.
“I thought that would’ve passed up three points and that would’ve taken two touchdowns,” Belichick said about potentially going for the conversion on fourth down.
“At the end of the game, especially in the dome, having a chance at a 50-plus yard field goal, I think is a lot better chance than scoring a touchdown and having a six-point differential as opposed to a three-point differential, relative to the chances of converting a 4th-and-7. At some point, I definitely would have kept the offense on the field on 4th-and-7 with less time or no timeouts.”
Belichick’s calculations could have worked, even after the Colts were able to bleed five minutes off the clock on their next drive. That series ended with a punt, and New England then scored a quick touchdown to make it a 20-17 game with 2:21 left.
Another defensive stop would have given the ball back to Mac Jones and company down three with about 1:20 remaining. Even with the offense struggling for most of the day, that task would have been a makable one.
Unfortunately, though, New England never got that chance: Colts running back Jonathan Taylor put the game away with a 67-yard touchdown run just outside the two-minute warning. What was left for Patriots were questions about their execution, and about the decisions made by their head coach.