November 16, 2009
As Chase noted earlier in his post criticizing Bill Belichick for "The Decision," Belichick took a beating from the media after last night's game.
Rodney Harrison(notes), who still calls the Patriots "we," verbally put the boots to Belichick from the NBC post-game show. Tony Dungy, maybe the friendliest guy on the planet, lambasted him for it, too. Over on ESPN, Trent Dilfer(notes) absolutely murdered Belichick for the call.
I'm going to respectfully disagree with Chase, Harrison, Dungy and Dilfer. I think "The Decision" was the right one.
Before we start, I just want you to know that I loathe the man. I think he's cheated, and I think he'd bite his own mother's left leg off in exchange for a win. Or even a first down. It brings me no joy to defend Bill Belichick.
The fact is, though, that the pros outweigh the cons here. Yes, he ended up giving Peyton Manning(notes) a short field, and yes, he showed "a lack of faith in his defense." I would suggest that Peyton Manning was going to score a touchdown there, whether it was from the Patriots 28, or his own 38. Belichick knows how good Manning is, and he knows how good his defense is. If you had to put your money on one unit, would you take the Colts' passing game, or the Patriots' pass defense?
As for showing "a lack of faith in his defense," you can call it that if you'd like, but I prefer to call it "being realistic about the situation." What, are we worried about hurting the defense's feelings? Awwww. If they don't like it, they can feel free to get better. Maybe there would be more faith in them in they didn't give up, oh, I don't know, just as an example ... 327 yards and four touchdowns to Manning.
Belichick had a chance to put the game on ice and keep the ball out of Peyton Manning's hands. All they had to do was complete a simple little play that they've run successfully about 28 million times. If Kevin Faulk(notes) doesn't bobble the pass right at the sticks, Bill Belichick is a genius this morning. I think Faulk might have gotten the first down anyway. We couldn't find out for sure because the Patriots couldn't challenge after having burned all their timeouts (if you want to criticize Belichick for something, I'd start there). They got burned because they couldn't execute a play that Tom Brady(notes) and Kevin Faulk can normally execute in their sleep. At what point would you ever bet against Tom Brady being able to get a ball to Kevin Faulk for a two-yard gain?
The raw statistical data backs up the decision to go for it, too. The following comes from Advanced NFL Stats, an excellent site that tracks "In-Game Win Probability" based on stats accumulated and in-game situations. Here's what they came up with, and you can get a more detailed explanation here. WP = Win Probability.
With 2:00 left and the Colts with only one timeout, a successful conversion wins the game for all practical purposes. A 4th and 2 conversion would be successful 60% of the time. Historically, in a situation with 2:00 left and needing a TD to either win or tie, teams get the TD 53% of the time from that field position. The total WP for the 4th down conversion attempt would therefore be:
(0.60 * 1) + (0.40 * (1-0.53)) = 0.79 WP
A punt from the 28 typically nets 38 yards, starting the Colts at their own 34. Teams historically get the TD 30% of the time in that situation. So the punt gives the Pats about a 0.70 WP.
Statistically, the better decision would be to go for it, and by a good amount.
At the end of the day, it was an unconventional call that's easy to question, given how things turned out. Belichick, though, has made a hall-of-fame career and built his own legend around making decisions just like that one. That way of thinking is what makes him great. If he wasn't willing to take those risks or do the unconventional thing, he wouldn't be Bill Belichick, future hall of famer and NFL coaching legend. He'd be Bill Belichick, that doofus that the Browns hired once a long time ago.
Even if you think it was a bad call, it was still a very Bill Belichick call, meaning that it went against the grain, defied traditional football logic and went for the jugular. Most of the time in the past, when Belichick's made such a call, it's worked out. Last night's didn't.
It happens. If the Colts and Patriots happen to meet again in the playoffs, and that exact same situation comes up, it will again be the right call to go for it.
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