ESPN writer Tim Keown wrote an opinion piece on ESPN.com about the end of the Super Bowl. He says that while the decision by Belichick and the Patriots defense to allow the Giants to score a go ahead TD in order to get the ball back with enough time to have a chance to score was the right call, it was not a fitting end to the Super Bowl. While he makes an interesting case about how it is a situation unique to the game of football, I think his argument fails to be compelling because he doesn’t accurately understand what kind of coach Bill Belichick is.
His premise about Belichick being the “great defender of all that is manly and stoic and arrogant in the world of the National Football League…” is flawed to a fault. As a Patriots fan, there are plenty of examples of Belichick playing the percentages and doing what seems counter-intuitive over doing what is deemed conventional wisdom. There are two prime examples.
First, the 4th-and-2 play against the Colts back in 2009. Conventional wisdom was to punt, give the ball back to Manning, and take your chances with a struggling defense that was tired and had been shredded in the 2nd half by Manning as he charged back to make it a close game. They went for it, and failed, but the percentages at that time, according to people who do the numbers crunching on percentages for these things said he was actually making the right call based on the percentages.
My favorite example, however, remains the Monday night game against the Broncos in Denver back in 2003. The Pats were going to have to punt out of the end zone, down by one, late in the 4th quarter. Belichick instructed his long snapper to snap the ball over the punters head and out of the end zone for a safety, putting the Broncos up by 3 points. This eliminated the possibility for the Broncos of a blocked punt recovered for a TD at best or excellent field position at the very least. Instead, the Pats were able to free kick from the 30 and change the field position, get a stop, and come back and score on a TD pass to David Givens to win the game. It remains one of my favorite games of the Brady-Belichick era. It seems obvious that it was the right move, aside from the favorable outcome, if for no other reason than the change in field position, but the conventional wisdom is to never put points on the board for the other team. There is nothing arrogant, stoic, or manly about giving away free points, whether 2 or 6.
The fact is Belichick has the freedom to do things unconventionally because of his success. It’s a luxury that few coaches probably do not feel like they have, which is why more teams do not do things like this. But Belichick has never been a completely conventional coach either. It’s why he plays Troy Brown or Julian Edelman at CB, Mike Vrabel as a goal-line TE, or Dan Klecko as a blocking FB. It’s why he played nearly an entire second half against a Drew Bledsoe-led Bills offense with nobody on his defense in a 3 point stance. He takes chances all the time, whether the rest of the league, his critics, or the Patriot fan base thinks it’s emasculating or wrong, because he doesn’t care about the perception of things. He’s interested in putting his players in the best position to actually win the game.