NFL FanHouse Roundtable: Examining Belichick's Decision
It seems everyone has an opinion about Sunday night's incredible finish in Indianapolis. Usually untouchable Patriots coach Bill Belichick is getting grilled by many (including a former Patriot) for his decision to go for it on a fourth-and-two inside the Patriots' 30 late in the game. The NFL FanHouse crew put their heads together Monday for a debate on the topic.
Bruce Ciskie: Am I the only one who thinks he is getting somewhat unjustly killed over this?
David Goldberg: No, you're not. What would we be saying if he'd made it? Best coach who ever lived?
Will Brinson: I actually liked it. Frankly, as insane as it looked last night, if they had gotten the first down, we would have been hearing announcers say stuff like, "That's why he's got those rings!" and "It's his signature -- going for big fourth downs and getting them. That's why people consider him a genius."
Michael David Smith: The bonehead move the Patriots made was wasting all three timeouts. I don't have a problem with going for it on fourth down, but I have a huge problem with using all your timeouts without any strategic clock management reason for any of them.
Knox Bardeen: I have an emphatic problem with him going for it on fourth down, especially from somebody who preaches smart decisions and field position like Belichick does. I understand that there were many reasons that the Patriots lost the game last night, MDS gave a good one already. But, had the Pats punted, they most likely win by six and we're talking about a completely different AFC playoff landscape.
Josh Alper: I don't know how you can kill a guy for wanting Tom Brady to decide whether he won or lost rather than Peyton Manning. You can quibble with the way he did it, especially without having any timeouts, but my first thought was that it didn't much matter where Peyton got the ball since he was scoring anyway.
Also, I agree with Brinson here. It's the same kneejerk stuff either way and can guarantee that Dungy and Rodney wouldn't have been saying Belichick's a dope who got lucky if Faulk converts right there. To me, the "that's why he's got those rings" part is doing something unconventional because he thought it gave his team a better chance to win.
Stephanie Stradley: I don't know. Going for it on 4th down, seems to me to be the ultimate insult to your defense. I know they were depleted, but by making it all about Brady making the play, you are saying that you can't trust your defense to stop Manning on a long field.
Bardeen: A touchdown, an interception, and a pass interference-aided drive capped by an Addai TD were the Colts three 4th quarter drives prior to the game decider. Is it really a given that Manning could have driven the Colts the entire length of the field if the Pats had punted?
Adam Gretz: I'm all for coaches being more aggressive in fourth down situations (for example, I hate seeing teams kick field goals on fourth and goal from the one), but there's a time and a place for it. Not every fourth down situation is created equal. Given that situation (up six, two minutes left, inside your own 30), I just can't see the justification for going for it. That was fourth and close to three yards. I don't like the call, and I don't like how they managed the timeouts. The last four minutes were a total train wreck for New England.
Brinson: Not to cite Bill Simmons here, but he's the biggest Belichick schlobber on the planet and even he thought this was going to happen -- his rationale on it is 100% correct. Peyton Manning is unstoppable and they had more than two minutes against a heavily depleted (as Steph noted) defense.
I feel worse agreeing with Merrill Hoge than Josh does agreeing with me, but good gravy, if you step on the throat of your biggest rival, give them the first loss of the year and all of a sudden give you justification for being the best team in the AFC, you're getting praised left and right this morning.
J.J. Cooper: I can't claim this as my idea, but let me ask you: if you were a Colts fan, were you cheering or scared when he decided to go for it? In my mind, I would have been frightened. I want the ball in Peyton Manning's hands even if he has to go 65 yards. Even if it's a 50/50 possibility that the Colts could stop the Patriots there (although the actual odds are 60/40 that they'd make it), the chance that they could run out the clock is scarier to me than anything.
It's definitely an unconventional call, one that very few NFL coaches have the confidence and the job security to make, but I think it's much closer to a toss-up on whether it was the right call than most TV pundits wanted to make it out to be.
Dan Graziano: Just a thought here, but if you are going to go for it on 4th (and I really do think it was a huge mistake), why not throw deep? If you really want the game in Brady's hands instead of Manning's, why not bring Superman Randy Moss into it too?
Worst-case scenarios include:
-- The thing that happened.
-- An interception downfield, which would have roughly equated to a punt.
-- An interception returned for a TD, which would have given the Patriots the ball back with enough time to get into FG range, which they didn't have once Manning finally did score.
Brinson: I think it's also worth asking, "Why Kevin Faulk?" In my mind, a toss-up to Moss or a quick crossing route with Welker are both better options. If you're dead-set on getting that fourth, get in a stacked I-formation, make the Colts stack the line while thinking you're just trying to draw them offsides and roll Brady out left. You'd get two yards that way easy.
Matt Snyder: I live in Indy and I kind of like the Colts. So I'll admit I was rooting for them.
I was mad because I felt like it deprived us of seeing if Manning could go the length of the field. It would have been a thing of beauty to watch that two minute drill.
My wife is a Colts fan, so I wanted them to win. Knowing that, I was scared when I saw the Pats decided to go for it because I thought they'd make it.
I still think you have to punt there, but I guess my fear should illustrate it's not necessarily as bad a decision as many are saying.
Ciskie: I've never favored using the video game argument, nor do I really like the "He'd be a genius if it had worked" argument.
The Patriots have struggled on defense. Manning is awesome. They had plenty of momentum. The Patriots' best players are arguably all on offense, and you should usually want to live or die by your best players.
Not only that, but if you feel a Colts score was somehow inevitable, no matter their field position, aren't you better off giving them a short field? Odds are higher that you're going to get the ball back after a quick score.
Gretz: I think the assumption that Peyton Manning was just going to drive it 70 yards and score without a fight from the Patriots defense is just a little bit flawed, seeing as how he threw an absolutely dreadful interception about six minutes prior to all of the insanity starting. You have to trust your defense a little bit.
Again, I think there are many fourth down situations worth going for (fourth and goal from the two or three, for example), this, to me, was not one of them.
Ciskie: Fair enough, but if you're Belichick, and you've danced this dance before, aren't you thinking that you can run a play for two yards, given how well Brady had been throwing?
A bit overaggressive? Probably. But I think a lot of the criticism is really off base, given how the media has worshipped this guy for all these years.
Snyder: I still can't shake two things, though:
Does the end really justify the means? Meaning, if the Pats did get the first down, wasn't it still a stupid decision -- one from which the Pats escaped?
Also, why does his coaching acumen gain him a free pass? If this was Norv Turner or Jim Zorn, no one would be wanting to stick up for them. A bad decision is a bad decision. Everyone makes them. The best CEO in the world, the best salesman in the world, the best quarterback, etc. You can't just say it was a good one because of track record. Smart people make dumb decisions sometimes.
Graziano: The important thing to remember is that this isn't second-guessing. It was first-guessing. Nobody who was watching the game could believe he was really going to do it. You punt in that situation, whether you're a transcendent innovative genius or a high-school coach. It's more than twice as hard to drive 70 yards for a TD than it is to drive 35, whether you're a Hall of Fame QB or a Pop Warner QB. We can hammer this from every direction, but the man should have punted.
Ciskie: You can say that, but it comes back to whose hands you want the game to be in. All things equal, and you can play all the mental games you want with your own defense, there isn't a person alive that would argue that Belichick is better off putting the game in Tom Brady's hands than Peyton Manning's.
Especially when you have this environment involved, one where Manning is still -- inconceivably -- trying to prove himself to a certain extent.
Graziano: If they're at midfield, I agree. But by going for it there, you bring in the very real possibility that all Manning has to do to win the game is go the college-overtime distance. At home. Why allow that possibility to even enter the picture? All these coaches preach field position all the time like it's gospel. The location of the ball on the field at that time should have been the deciding factor, Brady vs. Manning notwithstanding. All due respect, it DOESN'T come down to whose hands you want the game to be in. It comes down to how far away from your own goal line you want the ball to be.
Brinson: But is 70 yards out really twice as hard as 35 yards out? It's twice as far, but I would argue that at home, with 2:14 to go, 70 yards is a comical distance for Peyton to travel against a beat up, young and less-than-stellar defense.
If you're Bill Belichick and you want to GUARANTEE a win -- and if you're the coach of that team, isn't that you job? -- the only way to do so is to get the first down there.