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Bad Beats: Don't Blame Belichick

   by Ben Burns - 11/16/2009


Don’t bash Bill Belichick for being Bill Belichick.

The Patriots’ coach, whose fourth-and-two gamble from his own 28 backfired in Sunday’s loss to the Colts, is getting hammered for coaching like he has throughout his illustrious career – aggressive and smart.

“We tried to win the game on that play,” said Belichick.

It was the right call.

If you missed it, the Patriots were leading 34-28 with 2:23 to play. They ran three plays and were left with a 4th-and-2 from their own 28 with 2:08 left. Belichick called timeout, his last, discussed the situation with Tom Brady and elected to go for the first down.

Brady completed a pass to Kevin Faulk, but he was ruled short of the first down. Faulk briefly bobbled the pass before being pushed back around the 29 yard line. It was a close call and certainly would have been worth a challenge, but because the Patriots were out of timeouts and the play had started before the two-minute warning, there was no challenge and the ruling on the field stood.

Peyton Manning promptly marched the Colts down the field and hit Reggie Wayne for a one-yard winning touchdown pass with 13 seconds to play.

The critics have been blasting Belichick ever since.

Old-schoolers point to the all-knowing book and insist you should punt in that situation. Former Patriots Teddy Bruschi and Rodney Harrison immediately criticized their former coach like they had to prove they were now unbiased analysts, even though they benefited greatly from the same aggressive tactics during their playing career.

But no one seemed to mention that in the last four seasons the Patriots have converted 77 percent of their fourth-down attempts. Or that the Patriots’ defense, missing three starters, had been able to stop Peyton Manning on only 61 percent of the Colts’ drives on Sunday.

On the preceding drive, it took Manning just six plays and one minute and 49 seconds to go 79 yards and score.

Harrison and Bruschi said that the decision was show of doubt in the defense. No one would argue that: when compared to the Patriots offense, there is more doubt about the defense. That’s why you go for it.

Other critics point to the two timeouts New England used on the drive that ended on the failed fourth-down conversion. They used the first to fix a personnel mix-up before the first play of the drive, obviously, a bad blunder.

They used their final timeout to discuss the fourth-down situation. Even though it came back to cost them the ability to challenge the fourth-down spot, the Patriots used their last timeout to consider their options on what could have been a winning first down. You’re not going to need it whether you punt or get the first down any way.

But none of that seems to matter to the national and Boston media, who appear eager to take their shots at Belichick as some kind of revenge for his surely demeanor.

Bettors, who ended up with a closing line of Patriots +1, probably aren’t too happy about the decision either. But they have no one else to blame but themselves for not shopping for a better number. Patriots +3 was available throughout the week and even on Sunday at some books.

You make the call

Anyone remember the old NFL commercial “You make the call,” where you were presented with a situation then asked to play referee and make the call on the play. There would be a brief commercial then they’d come back with the answer.

That was cool.

Let’s play, except instead of the referee, you get to be Oregon coach Chip Kelly.

Here’s the situation: The Ducks, favored by 21, led Arizona State 41-21 with 5:56 in the fourth quarter. The Sun Devils were in surrender mode and had just punted after a three-and-out.

Oregon took over at its own 46, looking to simply run out the clock. The Duck ran the ball seven consecutive times and moved inside the Arizona State 25. The Sun Devils didn’t call a timeout and seemed completely satisfied with letting Oregon drain the clock.

But the Ducks failed to pick up a 3rd-and-5 at the 24 with two minutes left.

With the clock running and Oregon up by 20, head coach Chip Kelly could either elect to attempt to pick up the first down or kick a field goal. If he goes for it and is successful, the Ducks could knee down three straight times and end the game. If they fail, oh well, Arizona State takes over inside its own territory down three scores.

What would you do? You make the call.

Kelly’s call was to kick the field goal. Morgan Flint drilled it from 41 yards out, making the final score Oregon 44, Arizona State 21 and crushing the hearts of Sun Devils backers, who had seem their team rally to get within 10 in the third quarter.

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