The Patriots season is over, the Broncos held on in the final 12 seconds to stop a two-point conversion that would have sent the game to overtime. With their defense earning a much-deserved win, Denver moves on Super Bowl L. And now the second guessers are circling, eagerly awaiting their chance to snipe at Bill Belichick and point fingers at him as to why the Patriots lost.
I think this has more to do with people wanting to chip away at Belichick’s image and having to assign blame to someone at a loss than just admitting the fact, that the Broncos were the better team on Sunday.
Did Belichick and the Patriots coaches make some questionable decisions in the rarified air in Denver? Absolutely and you could start with the very rare decision to take the ball at the opening kickoff, something they never do. The hope was to strike quickly, put Peyton Manning the and Denver offense in catch-up mode and take them out of their game.
It didn’t work, the Patriots stalled and it was the Broncos who scored on their first possession. If you want to question anything from the start, question why the powers that be (Belichick, Matt Patricia), treated Manning like the one of yore in the first quarter, afraid to bring pressure. Once they finally did do that, they were already down 14-6 and the Denver offense didn’t do much more the rest of the game.
But the calls everyone are falling all over themselves to second guess are “Why didn’t they take the field goals, they’d be heading to the Super Bowl.” Sounds simple enough and reasonable, but let’s look at the facts leading into it.
4th & 1 with 6:03 Remaining: Through the first 54 minutes of the game, the Patriots offense couldn’t move the ball with any rhythm or continuity. Their longest drive, 48 yards, resulted in only a field goal. Their lone touchdown drive to that point came off of a turnover, a backwards pass gone awry and set them up with a very short field.
So if you’re the head coach, you are looking at this game in the context that thru 54 minutes your offense has done next to squat, you are still within one score and a two-point conversion and this just might be your only chance to tie this thing up and hope your defense can generate a turnover. The offense put together its longest drive of the day and is inside the red zone at the 16-yard line. 4th and 1 isn’t the most difficult one to make, in the red zone. If and a big IF, if you have any semblance of a running game. The Patriots didn’t so this is where you trust your QB and skill position players to make a play.
A field goal here does what? Narrows a 20-12 lead to five, and the Patriots would still need a touchdown to win. The way Denver’s defense had been playing to that point, there was nothing to suggest that the Patriots were going to get another opportunity, especially with the way the pass rush of the Broncos was bringing pressure on Brady every single snap.
The point differential here is everything, if Denver’s lead had been six points, I believe Belichick wouldn’t have hesitated for a field goal attempt. Then they’d need only another field goal to tie or a touchdown to win. Watching the game, I thought at the time, they have to go for it here, thinking they may not get this close again.
Many have lambasted the play call and while I see their point, looking at the replay, it wasn’t so much the play call but the execution by DeMarcus Ware who blew up the play. The call had Edelman coming in motion from right to left, at the snap Brady slides to the right and Edelman is supposed to slip behind the flow and catch a pass from Brady where he’s supposed to be alone in space.
Everything seemed to be working, except Ware blew the play up. Coming hard after Brady, he was on him in no time. Brady couldn’t fire the ball to Edelman as Ware was in his face. Instead he had to loft it over him; Edelman, instead of catching the ball at the line of scrimmage, was caught waiting for it to come down a yard behind the line. Chris Harris who had been playing about 3-4 yards back, flew in and with Aqib Talib’s help stopped Edelman for a loss. That was just a great head’s up play by Ware. Had Brady been able to fire it in quickly, Edelman makes that first down easily.
If your offense can’t get you a yard at crunch time when you’re down by a touchdown, then you aren’t going to win a lot of games. And in this case, they did not.
4th & 6 2:25 Remaining: But the Patriots did get another chance late in the game. This time they drove to the Denver 14-yard line with just under two and half minutes remaining.
The Denver pass rush was finally beginning to tire just a bit and their secondary was taking some injuries. Look at the scenario again; if they kick a field goal here, it still leaves your team needing a touchdown. And although the defense has stuffed the Broncos in the second half, even with three timeouts and the two-minute warning, one first down by the Broncos ends it.
At this point now, Belichick’s hand is about forced; do you kick a field goal, still needing a touchdown to win, knowing one first down ices the game for Denver? So they went for it. Brady was under duress (as one nearly every snap) but was able to get the pass away in the back of the end zone where Gronkowski was covered by three different defenders. The pass was a bit high and tipped away.
Gronkowski and Brady were screaming for a pass interference penalty on Talib, who did have a bear hug as well as a tug on the jersey of Gronkowski at the back of the end zone. The referee was right there and had a perfect view of it. But it was to no avail, Talib got away with a veteran move, did just enough to NOT get called for a flag and Denver took over on downs.
Should there have been a flag? You can argue that one ‘til the cows come home. Perhaps Denver’s obvious lobbying the refs prior to the game had an influence on the call, who knows? It was close, that’s for sure.
So in looking at the scenario late in the game, while everyone can’t wait to point fingers and assign blame to Belichick for going for it…twice. They were the right moves at the time. But there seems to be this unending desire to chip away at the Hoodie at every opportunity. Looking back at some decisions against Philadelphia and the finale at Miami, I can and would agree with. Against the Broncos on Sunday…nope.
We’re on to the off-season, Free Agency and the Draft.
Posted Under: Patriots Commentary
Tags: 2015 NFL Post season 2015 NFL Season AFC Championship Game Aqib Talib Belichick Decisions Chris Harris Danny Amendola DeMarcus Ware Denver Broncos Julian Edelman New England Patriots NFL Patriots Rob Gronkowski Tom Brady