You don't tug on Belichick's cape. You don't kick into the wind.
Sunday night's epic comeback/epic failure of a game between the Denver Broncos and New England Patriots featured a fascinating debate as overtime began: If you win the coin flip, do you take the wind or the ball?
The Twitter straw poll, perhaps with memories of Marty Mornhinweg dancing in folks' heads, was clear-cut: You take the ball. Naturally, Bill Belichick did the opposite.
The contrarian head coach instructed his captains to march out the midfield, with straight faces, and explain to the refs that they wanted to defend the end with the winds at their back. Go on, let Peyton Manning have the ball first.
"We all looked at each other like he was crazy — then we all asked again and again and again," Mankins told Comcast SportsNet's Postgame Live. "And we just wanted to make sure we were doing exactly what he wanted."
Knowing with the new rules — read up, Andrew Quarless — the Patriots would get a shot to tie or win as long as they didn't allow a touchdown, Belichick clearly felt that they could play their safeties deep and keep everything in front of them, knocking down whatever the fierce wind did not.
Belichick isn't breezy when it comes to in-game decisions. He likely had thought about this possibility the minute the Patriots took the field for pre-game warmups. Sparing everyone the narratives about geniuses and checkers and chess, this is how the man thinks. Other coaches might be scarred from past mistakes, especially of the unconventional variety — and you can bet that every Patriots fan thought of "4th and 2" at some point when questioning the sanity of this decision.
"It was a strong wind," Belichick said. "We just had to keep it out of the end zone, obviously. I just felt like the wind would be an advantage if we could keep them out of the end zone on that first drive. We were able to do that. The wind was significant in the game; it was definitely significant."
True that. The Patriots bent but didn't break. They allowed Manning to drive to the Broncos' 42-yard line and then the Patriots' 37-yard line (too far for a field goal) but no farther on two drives.
It's worth noting, as ESPN's Trent Dilfer pointed out, that the wind appeared to affect Manning more than it did Tom Brady. Manning was 9-of-18 passing for 75 yards, one touchdown and one interception in throws into the wind; Brady, meanwhile, was 17-of-23 passing for 201 yards and two touchdowns.
"Bill’s a genius," McCourty said. "Even the captains were like, ‘Really? Defer?’ He wanted to take the wind. Obviously that was the best call."
Say this about Belichick, as we've known for many years now: He's not afraid of being wrong, and he doesn't mind throwing caution to the ... oh, well, you know.
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