Despite entering their Week 4 game against the Green Bay Packers a 9.5-point underdogs, the New England Patriots found themselves in a position to win in overtime. After forcing a three-and-out to start the extra period, they set up shop at their own 49-yard line.
What followed was a Damien Harris run for five yards into Green Bay territory. Second down saw a run for no gain, followed by quarterback Bailey Zappe — the Patriots’ nominal third-stringer who was thrust into action late in the first quarter — throwing incomplete to set up 4th-and-5.
Despite either team needing only a field goal to win and the Patriots just a handful of yards outside Nick Folk’s range, New England head coach Bill Belichick decided against being aggressive. Instead, he sent out the punt team, pinning the Packers at their own 10.
It did not matter, though, as Green Bay answered with a 12-play rally to set up a game-winning field goal. Packers 27, Patriots 24.
Hindsight is always 20/20, but the eventually end result raised questions about New England’s approach on that fourth down situation the previous drive. For center David Andrews, however, it all came down to the offense simply not moving the chains.
“Great situation there, at the end of the game,” he said during his postgame press conference. “We just couldn’t convert”
The Patriots offense had two shots at gaining five yards, and did not do it. Head coach Bill Belichick — facing a potent opponent on the road in overtime — could have made it three opportunities for his offense by keeping the unit on the field instead of punting the ball away, but he decided against it.
Why would he do that? It appeared the circumstances might have favored such a call in his eyes. Not only had his defense generally performed well up to that point and just forced a brief stop to open the extra period, his team also had a rookie quarterback under center.
Belichick explained his decision making on Monday morning.
“We were able to put them on a long field. We had just done that the series before, on the opening kickoff at overtime,” he said.
“The longer it is, the harder it is to make that decision. You certainly wouldn’t want to come up short on 4th-and-5 and hand the ball over a first down away from field goal range. So, there’s a tradeoff there. I don’t think it was heavily considered.”
Rookie quarterback Bailey Zappe, meanwhile, expressed a similar view as Andrews when speaking about the situation after the game.
“Everybody will look back and look at the things we could have done differently,” he said. “I feel like we played well as a team tonight. Like I said, O-line played well, receivers played well, running backs ran well.
“Of course, there’s things we’re going to see tomorrow that we look back and say ‘If we did this differently.’ There are things personally for me that if I make a throw or if I do something differently, the outcome’s different. But that’s the good thing about football, you’ve always got the next game.”