BOSTON (CBS) — Roughly halfway through the fourth quarter of Sunday’s game in Jacksonville, with his team trailing by 11 points, Bill Belichick had a decision to make — and he had plenty of time to make it.
With the NFL replay center reviewing the spot of a James White catch-and-run, Belichick had to decide whether he would want to attempt a fourth-and-inches play at his own 18-yard line or whether he’d want to punt the ball to Jacksonville, relying on his defense to get the ball back to Tom Brady’s hands. The coach weighed the risks and potential rewards and ultimately decided to punt.
On the first play of the ensuing Jaguars drive, Blake Bortles connected with Dede Westbrook for a 61-yard catch-and-run. The touchdown sealed a Jacksonville victory.
Despite the outcome, Belichick said on Monday morning that he believes he made the right call.
“Yeah, well, I mean, there was still, I don’t know, eight minutes to go in the game or something like that. So, just felt like that was the right thing to do at that point. We got good field position, but then we lost it,” Belichick said. “There’s a lot of things that get talked about. There’s a lot of things that go into that. So, we could talk about it all day.”
As it turned out, the Patriots had the opportunity for a free first down on the punt in question, when Jaguars linebacker Telvin Smith stepped into the neutral zone prior to the snap. But because no Patriots players flinched while Smith was in the neutral zone, there was no penalty on the play.
On the game broadcast, Belichick was shown after the play offering some harsh words to special teamer Brandon King. But on Monday, Belichick acknowledged that it would have been tough for King or any other player on that side of the formation to have intentionally reacted to Smith’s jump.
“I mean, it’s just one of those things that it’s a close play and it just — I don’t know, I wouldn’t fault anybody on this one,” Belichick said. ” It could have worked out differently, but I think everybody’s trying to do the right thing. I wouldn’t second-guess anybody on this one.”
Results aside, it’s not overly difficult to see what Belichick weighed during the replay review. In a best-case scenario, the Patriots would have converted the fourth-and-inches while still having to travel 80 yards for a touchdown and roughly 45 more yards for a field goal. Converting that fourth-and-short would not have provided anything close to a guaranteed score for New England. Conversely, getting stuffed on the fourth-and-short would have given the football to the Jaguars at the New England 18-yard line, thereby essentially giving them free points.
The ideal scenario for Belichick was to punt the ball away and force a three-and-out. It’s worth noting that the Jaguars’ four drives prior to the decision ended with two punts, an interception, and a lost fumble. Belichick had reason at the time to believe his defense could make a stop.
Alas, the defense broke down and allowed a simple connection on a 5-yard crossing pattern to go for 61 yards and a score, thus burning a brighter spotlight on that fateful decision to punt.